Men’s tennis dominate to win first ITA Indoor Championship
After falling short of winning the ITA Indoor Championship in three straight finals appearances in the past five seasons, the No. 4 Washington University men’s tennis team finally made history in Cleveland. Facing three top-15 opponents, the Bears seized the opportunity to record their first ITA Indoor championship.
In the championship on Sunday against No. 10 Johns Hopkins University, Wash. U. fell behind 2-1 after doubles play but won five of six singles matches to clinch the victory.
Although not as prestigious as the NCAA national title in May, the indoor championship is still an accomplishment that no Wash. U. player in program history has experienced before, giving this year’s Bears squad a highlight even before the outdoor season has started.
First-round action for the Red and Green ended with a dominant 8-1 victory against No. 14 University of Redlands, ending a three-match losing streak to the Bulldogs. Wash. U. took two of the three doubles matches to take an early lead and claimed all six singles matches. Junior Ross Putterman in particular showed poise in a tight third against Redlands’ top singles player, winning 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
In the semifinals against No. 8 Trinity University the next day, senior Jeffrey Hirsh and sophomore Tyler Kratky put on an entertaining and dramatic match in third doubles. With a chance to serve for the win at 7-6, the Bears’ duo was unable to finish as the Tigers’ doubles team fought to break before sending the match to a tiebreak, whose winner would possess a 2-1 overall edge going into singles play. Hirsh and Kratky, having already saved two match points, won the important tiebreak 7-2.
“We pulled it out with our energy and the whole team behind us,” Kratky exclaimed, “It brought us momentum into singles.”
Continuing their strong performance in singles, junior Kevin Chu won in sixth-flight singles in straight sets, and freshman John Carswell clinched the team match with a win over the reigning National Small College Champion, Aaron Skinner, by scores of 7-5 and 6-3.
The Bears faced Johns Hopkins in the championship round with the first ITA Indoor title on the line for both schools. The top doubles pair of Putterman and freshman Jeremy Bush won their third match of the weekend to get the Bears on the board first. However, the Blue Jays stormed back, taking the next two in doubles play and leaving the Bears in a deficit going into singles.
“There was a lot on the line,” Kratky said, “We kept our heads up and played confident because we know our singles lineup is one of the strongest in the nation.”
The Red and Green showed their mettle in singles. Carswell won his third singles match of the weekend in two dominant sets, and though Putterman fell in singles, the Bears imposed their will from that point on. Kratky won 6-4, 6-0 with a consistent and commanding performance in fifth-flight singles, and Chu gave the Bears the lead again with a gritty tiebreak victory. Bush clinched the championship for Wash. U. with a 7-5, 6-3 win at third singles.
“We have unreal team chemistry. We all support each other and want each other to play their best,” said Bush.
“I made sure I ran my hardest for every single ball, not allowing my opponent to get any free points,” Bush added. “I didn’t play like myself two weeks ago against Gustavus Adolphus [College] and [the University of] Wisconsin-Whitewater, so [this weekend], I focused on playing with more intensity and focus.”
Head coach Roger Follmer praised his team’s performance: “[We] competed at a very high level with rock solid singles matches, and…we were rewarded. We’ll work on conditioning and patience for the longer points and rallies to come during the outdoor season.”
The team will have some time off before it tries to continue its high level of play in the outdoor season, starting March 10.