Men’s tennis goes on a run at UAA championship, falls short in final round

| Sports Editor

Men’s tennis in action. (Sam Powers | Student Life.)

“LTP: Love The Process.” 

It’s a phrase that Washington University men’s tennis Coach Roger Follmer has been telling his team all year. From the 6 a.m.practices in January to the deciding match against the University of Chicago in the semifinals of the University Athletic Association (UAA) Conference Tennis Tournament, junior Jared Phillips has embraced that process.

With the team contest tied 4-4, the only remaining match between Phillips and UChicago’s Emil Grantcharov was level going into the tiebreaking third set. Although it was Phillips’ first time playing in a deciding match at the college level, he said he wasn’t thinking about himself at the moment.

“I wanted to win not for myself, really, but for the team overall,” Phillips said. “Having all my teammates on the next court over watching me and screaming for me after every point didn’t really make me nervous. It honestly just made me really excited to be out there and just be playing on behalf of my team and just trying to do everything for them to win.”

Whether it was thanks to the team’s camaraderie or an impressive performance by Phillips — who went undefeated in the third singles spot on the weekend— the junior won the final set 6-3, earning the Bears a ticket to the UAA conference final. Although the Bears — who are ranked third nationally and second in the UAA — fell to Case Western Reserve University, who hold the top spot in both the nation and conference, in the finals, the impressive performances throughout the weekend proved that the WashU squad is capable of competing with anyone they face.

After losing their last two matches of the regular season — including an away contest to UChicago — the Bears needed to rebound going into the tournament. Although their first-round matchup against New York University, the seventh seed in the conference, appeared to be easy on paper, WashU knew they had to work to earn their spot in the second round. The round started with three tight doubles contests, but the Bears were able to pull out victories in two out of the three matches, giving them momentum going into the singles round. From there, the Bears dominated, as Phillips, freshman Eric Kuo, and graduate student Phuc Huynh won three matches in a row to clinch the match 5-1 for the Bears. The victory in the first round gave the WashU team the confidence they needed to compete at a high level against stronger opposition.

“Especially in the first round of UAA as being the two seed, there can definitely be some nerves in those early matches,” Phillips said. “We really just took it to them pretty quickly in the singles, and that gave us the confidence to continue performing the rest of the weekend.”

WashU would need that confidence in their semi-final matchup against UChicago. The matchup against the Maroons was nothing new for the Bears. After beating them in the semifinals of the ITA Indoor Nationals in February, the Bears lost to them in their last regular season game just a week ago.

The rematch started on a similar note to their last contest. After losing two out of three doubles matches, the Bears lost in sixth singles to give UChicago a 3-1 lead. Victories by Kuo and senior Abhi Ramireddy tied the score at three, but the teams split the next two matches. When Jared Phillips took care of business in the final match, however, the Bears clinched not only revenge over their rivals but also a spot in the UAA championship.

For the second time in a row, the Bears faced a familiar foe. This time, however, Case Western, who had beaten WashU in the finals of the ITA Indoor Nationals, had their number once again. Just like in February, the Spartans knocked off the Bears 5-1 to clinch the title. 

Although the Bears left Florida without a trophy, they have their eyes set on a different one — the NCAA DIII National Championship — knowing they might have to go through Case Western to attain it. 

“We felt like we have the players, and we put in the work to really be able to compete with any team out there, no matter what they’re ranked,” Phillips said after the tournament. “Even though we didn’t go against Case and win the last match for the UAA Championship, the real quality of our play gave us the confidence going into the NCAA Tournament now that we can compete with those teams, and we are one of those teams that can win the National Championship. And you know, we’re 0-2 against Case this year, but we’d really love to make that a 1-2 in the National Championship.”

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