Men’s Tennis: Northwestern qualifies for its first NCAA tournament since 2017

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Daily file photo by Nathan Ansell

Dominik Stary receives a plaque at center court. Stary has not lost any of his last 11 singles matches.

Nathan Ansell, Reporter


Men’s Tennis


Northwestern lost to Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament but the season isn’t over just yet.

The NCAA selection committee announced Monday that the Wildcats (13-7, 11-5 Big Ten) will travel to Austin, Tex. to play UCLA (13-6, 4-3 Pac-12) in the first round of the Division I Men’s Tennis tournament on Saturday. This is the first time the squad will make an appearance at the tournament since 2017.

“I’m just really excited to be playing in the NCAA tournament again,” coach Arvid Swan said. “Thrilled for our guys to have this opportunity.”

NU’s postseason started last weekend against Nebraska at the Big Ten Tournament, marking its third matchup with the Cornhuskers (2-16, 1-15 Big Ten) in 2021. Nebraska got on the board first, ending the Cats’ 12-match streak of winning the doubles point.

“We played a really competitive doubles point with Nebraska the two previous times we played against them,” Swan said. “We knew it was going to be close.”

In singles, however, the momentum shifted.

Graduate student Chris Ephron only dropped two games in a dominant 6-0, 6-2 performance. Then, junior Trice Pickens and freshman Presley Thieneman won in straight sets. Senior Nick Brookes lost a close third set, but junior Steven Forman overcame the Cornhuskers’ Shunya Maruyama at No. 1 to give the Cats a 4-2 overall victory.

“Chris has been in that position many times where if you lose the doubles point, you try and get that first (singles) point on the board,” Swan said. “He took a lot of pride in being able to put that first point up to tie the match up for us. It speaks to his leadership and competitiveness.”

NU then struggled against a strong Ohio State team in the semifinal, losing 4-0 to the Buckeyes for the second time this season.

After taking the doubles point, Ohio State tightened their grip on the match, not allowing any Cats player to win more than four games in a first set. Brookes and graduate student Dominik Stary both managed to take their second sets in return, but Forman and freshman Gleb Blekher suffered quick defeats. Pickens couldn’t hold on to a 5-3 second set lead in his showdown, losing a tiebreaker to finalize the loss.

“Could we have executed on a few more points and put us in a closer position? Sure,” Swan said. “But I thought the fight from our team was really good, and we made it a competitive match.”

Two days later, Swan’s squad earned an at-large bid, ending a four-year NCAA tournament drought and officially securing the 17th tournament appearance in program history.

“We were all hoping we would get selected,” Swan said. “Really excited to be able to go and play UCLA.”

UCLA earned a tournament berth for the 44th consecutive time, appearing every year since the current format was instituted. Their only previous meeting with the Cats took place in 1997 and was also a first-round tournament match. NU lost it 4-0.

The Bruins have some impressive wins this season, defeating five teams that qualified for the tournament. UCLA’s Keegan Smith, ranked 60th in the nation, is 13-2 in singles.

“(UCLA is) a historically very good team,” Swan said. “We’ll try to prepare our guys the best we can and try to learn some information about the Bruins.”

If NU emerges victorious, they will likely face fourth overall seed Texas (20-5, 4-1 Big 12), who hosts the weekend’s matches. Expected warm weather in Austin means that the Longhorns’ courts will be quicker, similar to last weekend’s temperatures that almost reached 80 degrees.

“It plays a little bit faster, as well as the ball going through the air,” Swan said. “But it did help to play in Lincoln.”

Email: nathanansell20[email protected]
Twitter: @NathanJAnsell

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