After several years of disappointing tournament results, the Utah State men’s tennis team have now erased every bad memory.
The Aggies claimed the Mountain West crown with a 4-0 victory over UNLV in the championship match. For the tournament, USU outscored opponents 12-1 and never lost a singles match.
The win clinches a spot in the NCAA Tournament for Utah State, the first tournament berth in Aggie history.
“It’s an awesome feeling, unreal,” said USU head coach James Wilson. “When we started the season, we wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament. That was our goal, and it’s awesome to accomplish that goal.”
Utah State waltzed into the championship match courtesy of a 4-0 win over Boise State in the first round, followed by a 4-1 victory over San Diego State in the semifinals.
In the championship match, the Aggies faced adversity early in the doubles point, as UNLV raced at the lead as MW Player of the Year Jakob Amilon and Evaldo Neto defeated USU’s junior Kai Wehnelt and sophomore Samuel Serrano, 6-2. USU responded, however, as junior Jack Swindells and sophomore Jonas Maier evened up the doubles score with a 6-4 win over Ruben Alberts and Adam Gage-Brown. On court three, juniors Jaime Barajas and Andrew Nakajima responded to the pressure with a 6-3 win to put the Aggies on top, 1-0.
“Today, we fought a tough doubles point, and came out with it,” Wilson said. “In singles, the guys were relentless from the start. They didn’t back off, and we played really well.”
In singles play, USU relied on the 4, 5, and 6 spots to clinch the match. First, freshman Sergiu Bucur defeated Richard Solberg in straight sets, 6-0, 6-4. For the tournament, Bucur outscored his opponents 36-13, never losing a set. Shortly after Bucur’s win, Swindells secured his own straight-sets victory, defeating Neto 6-3, 6-4. With Wehnelt, Barajas, and Serrano all battling through close matches, Maier officially clinched the match with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win over Charlie Croxford, and the celebration for the Aggies began.
For those looking for a catapulting force behind the Aggies run through the conference tournament, look no further than the bottom half of the lineup. USU has received extremely strong play from the 4, 5, and 6 spots in the lineup all season, and such play continued in the postseason. Bucur and Maier were especially excellent for the Aggies, as the duo went a combined 6-0 in singles play during the tournament. Bucur capped off an unbeaten season in MW singles play, finishing 11-0 in regular and postseason singles play combined. Maier finished right behind with a 9-1 combined record against MW opponents, as well as a 7-3 mark in doubles play with Swindells.
The season has been a season records for the Aggies, and the Aggies will have the chance to keep adding to the record books. The conference title officially clinches a berth to the NCAA Tournament to be held in Athens, Georgia in May. The Aggies were in line to receive an invitation to the tournament, but erased all doubt with the tournament win.
The NCAA Tournament selection show will be held on Tuesday, May 2nd. There, Utah State will learn of their seeding and first round opponent.
“We’ll take a couple days off, and they’ll be finishing up school,” Wilson said. “We’ll see where we’re going to go on Tuesday. It’s going to be an awesome time. It’s the first time for all of these guys, and the first time for me as a head coach. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The tournament will be held at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the campus of the University of Georgia. The tournament will begin on May 18 and will continue until the crowning of a national champion on May 29.