St. Peter, Minn. - The Gustavus Adolphus men’s tennis team advanced to the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a 5-0 victory over UW-Whitewater on Saturday afternoon at the Brown Outdoor Tennis Complex. Although the box score suggests a dominating win for the host institution, today’s match was drama-filled and tightly-contested from start to finish. The Gusties earned all three doubles points by just two games on each court before receiving wins from Brad Entwistle (Jr., Sioux Falls, Minn.) and Joey MacGibbon (Sr., Apple Valley, Minn.) in singles.
Riding an eight-match winning-streak and, Gustavus heads into Sunday’s regional championship for the second straight season. At 29-5 overall, the Gusties will face top-seeded Trinity University tomorrow afternoon at 12:00 p.m. at the Brown Outdoor Tennis Complex. If inclement weather occurs, the match will be moved indoors into the adjacent Swanson Tennis Center.
“The combination of energy, trust, and belief in each other helped us earn a victory over a very talented UW-Whitewater team today,” said Head Coach Tommy Valentini. “We saw them earlier in the year and the team we saw today was a completely different one. They have a lot of guys who have played in a lot of big matches, so it was huge for us to respond with three wins in three tight doubles matches. The guys created a ton of energy with the way they played in doubles and that set an outstanding tempo for the match.”
All three of Gustavus’s doubles pairs broke serve early and were able to hang on late in the set. Mya Smith-Dennis (Sr., Savage, Minn.) and Motasem Al-Houni (Jr., Tripoli, Libya) were the first to finish, giving the Gusties a 1-0 lead after edging Jake Humphreys and Byron Balkin 8-6 at No. 1. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, both teams’ No. 1 doubles pairs were ranked fourth in the central region according to the most recent ITA Division III men’s rankings.
Gustavus’s No. 3 duo of Marcel Gyswyt (Sr., Golden Valley, Minn.) and Andres Saenz Hoyo (Fr., Cancun, Mexico) followed suit with an 8-6 win of their own, beating Kevin Friend and Cam Laktash to put the Gusties up 2-0.
The final doubles point came in a hard-fought battle between Joey MacGibbon and Juan Luis Chu (Sr., Lima Peru) and Ben Shklyar and Martin Beck at the No. 2 position. In the end, MacGibbon and Chu found a way to prevail with a 9-7 win, giving the Black and Gold a doubles sweep and a 3-0 lead.
Gustavus rode the momentum into singles where Brad Entwistle put his squad within a point of a decision with a win at No. 6. Entwistle battled his way to a 7-5 opening set win, then cruised to the straight-set victory with a 6-1 win in the second.
“Brad had a fantastic day – we have so much trust his game,” Valentini said about Entwistle. “He understands what he is trying to execute and he competed beautifully today. His opponent had firepower, but Brad just stayed the course and played his game. To get one on the board after taking all three doubles points really changes the dynamic of the match and that’s what we needed at that point.”
Although Gustavus was within a point of clinching the match following Entwistle’s win, UW-Whitewater began to turn momentum across the remaining courts. Chu, Smith-Dennis, and Grant Leisner (Sr., Andover, Minn.) had all dropped their second set after first set wins and were battling in the third, while Al-Houni came back with a win in the second after dropping the first.
Sensing the need to deliver, senior Joe MacGibbon did just that. After taking set one 7-6 with a 7-4 win in the breaker, MacGibbon took control of the second set late and came away with the match-clinching 6-3 victory at No. 3.
“I get goose bumps thinking about it,” said Valentini about MacGibbon’s match. “Joe has come so far in this program and win or lose, we are just a better team when he is on the court. He is so steady and just like he has done all season, Joey stepped up and handled the moment beautifully. He has had a phenomenal senior season and I was thrilled that he grabbed the opportunity to put us over the hump. We needed someone with experience in that spot, and he was able to take a look around and get the sense that it was his time to rise to the occasion.”
The Trinity versus Gustavus final set for tomorrow afternoon will be a rematch of last season’s regional championship held in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The Tigers came away with a 5-2 victory in that meeting, earning a trip to NCAA Quarterfinals where their season came to an end with a 5-1 loss to Williams.
“Trinity is a top 10 team in the country and the top seed in this regional for a reason,” commented Valentini about Sunday’s match. “We just have to trust in ourselves and our capabilities – trust that we can go out and compete the right way. Doubles is going to big tomorrow, but regardless of how the scores play out, we need to rely on the work we’ve put in and focus on enjoying the moment. It’s pretty rare that you get the chance to play this match on your home court in front of your home crowd. We’re going to embrace it and love every moment. This group has been through a lot so it’s going to fun to watch them compete tomorrow.”