No. 9 men’s tennis beats No. 1 Case Western, finishes second in ITA Indoor Nationals

| Junior News Editor

The men’s tennis team poses with their national runners-up trophy. (Courtesy of Jared Phillips)

When the Washington University men’s tennis team prepared to take the court during the semifinals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) DIII National Indoor Championships on Feb. 23-25, they knew the numbers. They knew that they were the ninth ranked team in the country and were squaring off against top seed Case Western Reserve University, who ended last year’s season as national champions with an impressive record of 33-4. 

They knew it had been five years since they took a win against the Spartans, including hard-fought losses in the finals round of the University Athletic Association (UAA) tournament and Indoor Nationals last year. They knew it would take stellar performances across the board to earn their way to the championship round this year. 

With the score tied 3-3, the matchup against Case came down to the fourth singles match, pitting WashU sophomore Colin Scruggs against Case Western’s Ansh Shah. In a dramatic affair, Scruggs had a tight first set that he won 7-5, then dropped the second set 2-6, meaning that the bid to finals came down to the final set. 

“The third set was a war of attrition,” Scruggs said. “Both of us knew it would probably come down to our match. I knew what beating Case would mean for the team but I felt calm inside.”

Scruggs’ mentality paid off as he pulled out a 6-3 win, sending the Bears into the finals against Emory.

“The feeling was electric,” he said. 

In the final, however, the Bears fell to Emory University, the sixth seed, with a final score of 4-0. The WashU team finished as national runners up at the Indoor Nationals for the second year in a row. 

The Indoor Nationals tournament, which was run by the ITA, brought together the top seven teams from last year’s final ITA Division III national rankings, as well as Sewanee: The University of the South, the hosts of the tournament. 

WashU kicked off the tournament with a 4-3 win over No. 11 Sewanee. The match was highlighted by a win from sophomore Colin Fox and senior Gaurav Singh, who beat the number one doubles duo in NCAA Division III 6-4.

Gaurav Singh and Colin Fox excelled as WashU’s top doubles team. (Courtesy of WashU Athletics)

Playing at the number one spot for singles, senior Jared Phillips knew going into the tournament that every match would be a toss-up. Phillips had never beaten Case Western, who came looking for their third-straight ITA Indoor National Championship title, in his career at WashU. 

“It’s just a matter of keeping focus and staying locked down,” he said. 

After retiring from his first round match against Sewanee’s Jordan Theron, the top-ranked singles player in DIII, Phillips was ready to compete in the second round against Case Western. Phillips beat Vishwa Aduru, who ended last season ranked 10th in the nation in singles and won the 2023 doubles championship, in straight sets, 6-2 and 6-4.

“I think that was one of my overall best matches that I played in my WashU career,” Phillips said after the victory. “Coming off the doubles points, we just had a lot of energy, and I really fed off it well.”

The Bears had earned the single team point for doubles after winning two out of the three matches, each with a score of 6-3. 

Singh and Fox had a strong showing in their doubles match.

“After we got broken for 2-3, we broke those guys right back,” Singh said. “We were serving at 4-2 and that’s when we hit all those aces and closed it out to 6-3.”

Singh was one of the many WashU players competing in a grudge match against Case. During his freshman year, the now-senior dropped in a close 5-4 game against the Spartans during the NCAA semi-final. Now, three years later, Singh said that going into the tournament, the team was feeling confident and excited. 

“We’ve definitely been preaching: stay composed, stay confident, stay concentrated,” Singh said. 

Singh defeated ​​Casey Hishinuma, who ranks sixth in Case program’s history with a .816 career singles winning percentages, in a straight set match, 6-3, 7-5. 

With the teams tied at three, Scruggs took the Bears to the final with a win in his singles match. 

Though the team’s energy was strong coming off their win in semifinals, a tough game against No. 6 Emory University left them with the runner-up title. 

Emory took all three doubles matches, as well as the three singles matches that were played before Emory was able to clinch the win with a total of four points. 

Fox and Singh fell 4-6, graduate student Sergiu Celebidachi and Phillips lost 2-6, and juniors Pato Garcia Muriel and Scott Yamamoto fell 4-6 in the three doubles contests. In singles, Phillips dropped 3-6, 1-6, sophomore Eric Kuo fell 4-6, 1-6, and Singh lost 1-6, 3-6. 

“Playing against Emory is always a tough time,” Singh said. “I think they’re probably our biggest rivals in tennis historically, it’s certainly always a tough battle and they never give us an inch.”

In Scruggs’ opinion, Emory clutched the win because they were “hungrier” than Case. 

“Case was assuming they’d probably roll through and Emory wanted it pretty bad,” Scruggs said. “They hit flatter, played more aggressive, and brought the weaknesses out of our guys better than Case did.” 

Despite the results from the final, Phillips pointed to the strong showing against Case Western as proof of the team’s strength. 

“That was massive for us,” Phillips said. “We really showed that we have some guys that can really battle, some real dogs on our team…I think this tournament really showed us what we’re capable of.”

For Scruggs, the tournament showed that WashU has more potential than their ranking may indicate.

“We started out ranked eighth, so we definitely have something to prove,” Scruggs said. 

Looking forward, Singh said the team is excited for the transition towards outdoor tennis. 

“The beauty of it is now we go outdoors, and we have three more months to get a lot better and it’s a totally different game outdoors,” Singh said. “Even though we lost a national championship, we still got one more to play for, which is much more important.” 

The Bears’ outdoor season will kick off against North Central College and Depauw University on March 2 and 3. The Bears will be hosting the NCAA tournament in the end of May, with a series of home games in March and April beforehand. 

 

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