USU men’s tennis had their dream season come to an end on Friday in the NCAA Tournament, as the Aggies fell to Northwestern in the first round by a score of 4-2. It was Utah State’s first appearance in the tournament in program history.
“We played with passion, purpose and we fought to the end,” USU head coach James Wilson said. “I’m so happy with the way our guys competed today, Northwestern just came out on top.”
The Aggies started off strong, claiming a hard-fought doubles point to open up the match with a 1-0 lead. Junior Kai Wehnelt and sophomore Samuel Serrano fell to the No. 53-ranked doubles team of Strong Kirchheimer and Dominik Stary, 6-2. USU stormed back, however, as juniors Jaime Barajas and Andrew Nakajima defeated Chris Ephron and Michael Lorenzini by a score of 6-2, setting up a rubber match on court one featuring USU’s duo of senior Jack Swindells and sophomore Jonas Maier facing off with Northwestern’s No. 80 ranked doubles team of Konrad Zieba and Sam Shropshire. In a tight match, Swindells and Maier ultimately came out on top, 7-5.
In singles play, the Wildcats of Northwestern started to show exactly why they are ranked no. 21 in the country. Kirchheimer, the 37th ranked singles player in the country, topped Wehnelt 6-1, 6-2 to tie the match at one apiece. Freshman standout Sergiu Bucur pushed the Aggies back on top with his own straight-sets victory, a 6-3, 6-2 win over Ben Vandixhorn. The win was Bucur’s 13th in a row, tying the Utah State record for consecutive wins previously set in 1970.
Following Bucur’s win, the Wildcats began to take control of the match. At the number two spot in the lineup, No. 67 Konrad Zieba defeated Barajas, 6-1, 6-4. With the rest of the matches stretching to three sets, the Aggies were unable to claim the final two points of the match, with Swindells falling to NU’s Stary 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 while Serrano’s comeback attempt versus Shropshire also fell short, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
While the season may have ended sooner than anyone had hoped, Wilson and the team are quick to realize the lofty heights USU reached this season.
“It was an incredible season,” Wilson said. “I feel like the guys reached new heights. Obviously, we did things that have never been done at Utah State, and it’s a testament to their hard work and dedication.”
Among the records broken and tied by this year’s team was overall wins, as the Aggies notched 23 on the season, and a nine-match winning streak. Wehnelt also broke the record for single-season combined doubles and singles wins, while Swindells finished second on the all-time list behind his teammate.
Utah State will return seven of the nine players from this year’s roster next season. USU will look to fill the void left by Swindells and Daniel Echeverry. Overall, however, the future seems bright for Aggie tennis.
“I’m fortunate to be a part of it,” Wilson said, “and I’m excited about the future of Utah State tennis.”