Nyden “Best of Luck” Hill – Staff Writer
This past weekend, on Sunday, May 7, the Gustavus men’s tennis team hosted the NCAA regional third round of the NCAA outdoor championships. This third round match was critical for the Gusties to keep the momentum of their national championship dreams alive, as a win would send them onto the NCAA quarterfinals in Orlando.
However, the Gusties faced a mounting challenge that afternoon, as they were scheduled to face the defending national champions in the University of Chicago Maroons. This match marked the third time the Gusties and Maroons would square off this season, with the Maroons besting the Gusties in both prior contests 5-3 and 7-2, respectively.
The Gusties entered the contest riding the momentum of a dominant showing in the second round of the NCAA Regional Championship, besting UW-Whitewater with an impressive score of 5-1. While this momentum gave the Gusties some definite hope regarding their chances on Sunday, they faced a tough test in the defending NCAA champions, who were most certainly favored to win the match.
“Since it was the postseason, it was a different kind of pressure heading into the match. It was win or go home, so we knew there were no options other than grinding out a win if we wanted to extend our season,” Senior Nick Aney said.
Aney was not the only Gustie to share this sentiment.
“We knew that if we gave everything we had, we would have a good shot of beating them,” Senior Daniel Fouchier said.
With this in mind, it is important to note that competing with the best teams in the country is nothing new to the Gusties. Earlier this year, at the ITA National Indoor Championships, the Gusties took on the likes of NC Wesleyan and Emory. While the Gusties fell short against Emory, they proved that they had the capability to hang with the best that Division III has to offer, as well as beat a tough opponent in NC Wesleyan.
The Gusties also continued to prove their national contention earlier this spring when they traveled to Claremont California and took on the Trinity University Tigers in the Stag Hen Invitational. Being ranked 13th in the country, the Tigers were a more than an intimidating force for the Gusties, but again, the Gusties took care of Trinity in a score of 5-2, continuing to prove to others and themselves that they were a force to be reckoned with on the national stage.
.To start the day at Swanson Tennis Center against the Maroons, the Gusties wasted no time adjusting to the spotlight, as they found immediate success in doubles. Playing in the number one doubles spot, the Gustie duo of Aney and Fouchier defeated their University of Chicago opposition 8-3. The pair of Senior Alex Budde and First-year Gage Gohl, who played in the number two spot, bested their opponents by a score of 8-6. Being able to win two-thirds of their doubles matches certainly put the Gusties in an amazing position as they looked to carry the momentum over to singles play.
“Going up in doubles is always a huge deal. The last two times we started down 1-2 after doubles so this change lit a spark telling guys we had a chance,” Budde said.
Sophomore Odin Fouchier also added to this assertion by Budde: “Going up 2-1 before singles is a great lift, but it was important to stay in the present moment and focus on singles matches. All the people on the sidelines gave so much energy in every single moment to keep the momentum going,” Fouchier said.
While singles play proved to be not as quite clean and dominant, the Gusties showed their grit throughout singles. While the Maroons proved victorious in the first set, winning the number four spot, the Gusties came back with Sophomore Rafael Costa, playing in the number 6 spot, giving the Gusties a 3-2 lead.
With this back-and-forth trend continuing, the Maroons won the number 3 singles spot, evening the score 3-3, as well as the number 5 spot after dropping the number two spot to the Gusties. This now left the deciding point to Aney, who was playing in the number one spot.
In typical fashion for the afternoon, this one was a thriller, with the score going to three sets. Aney picked up the first set but dropped the second in a sweep to the University of Chicago opposition. In the third and final set, Aney battled back from being behind early in the set to claim a 7-5 victory over his opponent, sending the Gusties to the Final Eight.
“It was one of the most special moments of my life. At that moment, I could barely process what happened. I was shocked. I’ve dreamed about being in this situation and sending Gustavus to the Elite 8 my entire career here, so getting to do it at home in my final match at Gustavus, in front of my whole team, my family, and an electric crowd was a moment I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. It was also a huge effort from the entire team, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to clinch the match if it wasn’t for everyone else on the team performing great and getting us 4 other points,” Aney said.
With this win in mind, the Gusties have some season-high momentum heading into the final stretch of their season, where they hope to continue their historic run in Orlando. We wish them the best of luck!