St. Peter, Minn. - The Gustavus Adolphus men’s tennis team saw its season come to an end in the third round of the NCAA Tournament with a 5-3 loss to Trinity University (Texas) on Sunday afternoon at the Brown Outdoor Tennis Complex. Although the Gusties faced a 2-1 deficit after doubles and later trailed 4-1 in singles, they battled back to bring the score within one point at 4-3. Despite the momentum shift, Trinity was able to buckle down and put to rest any comeback hopes with a win at No. 1 singles. The win earned the Tigers the 5-3 decision and a trip to the NCAA Quarterfinals.
Trinity improves to 23-6 with the victory, while Gustavus finishes its season with an overall record of 29-6. The Trinity men’s tennis team advances to the site of the NCAA Division III Championships being held at the Biszantz Family Tennis Center in Claremont, California on May 19-24. The team competition will take place May 19-21.
“It was a fantastic match and I just can’t say enough about the way all of our guys held together and stuck with it,” said Head Coach Tommy Valentini. “It’s a tough loss with four seniors in the lineup because you want to see them advance and have another crack at it, but I couldn’t be happier with the way we played and competed. It hurts to come out on the short end of the score but it was a special match to be apart of.”
Heading into today’s match, Coach Valentini stressed the importance of doubles and the momentum it carries. Trinity was able to grab that momentum by taking two of the three points from three tightly-contested matches.
At No. 3 doubles, Charlie Curtis and Clayton Neiss defeated Marcel Gyswyt (Sr., Golden Valley, Minn.) and Andres Saenz Hoyo (Fr., Cancun, Mexico) 8-5 to put Trinity up 1-0. Although Gyswyt and Saenz Hoyo had an early break, Curtis and Neiss broke back twice to earn the opening point of the contest.
The Gusties answered with a win from their top doubles team, tying the match at 1-1. After breaking Paxton Deuel and Nicolas Moreno following the first turn, Mya Smith-Dennis (Sr., Savage, Minn.) and Motasem Al-Houni (Jr., Tripoli, Libya) held serve and later took the team point 8-6 after winning two straight games up 6-5.
The third doubles point came down to a back-and-forth battle between Trinity’s Jorand Mayer and Greg Haugen and Gustavus’s Joey MacGibbon (Sr., Apple Valley, Minn.) and Juan Luis Chu (Sr., Lima Peru). MacGibbon and Chu broke to go up 4-1, but Mayer and Haugen came back with a break of their own to cut the gap to 6-5. Both teams held from that point on and the match went to a tiebreaker where the Tigers eventually picked up the 9-8 win and second doubles point thanks to a 7-0 victory in the breaker.
“We didn’t get the results wanted in doubles, but we certainly played well enough to win at No. 2,” Valentini said about his team’s position following doubles. “You lose a breaker in a tight match and all of sudden the momentum swings to them heading into singles. Against a team the caliber of Trinity, you have to be able to move on and commit to sticking it out to the bitter end. Fortunately, we did that today.”
Gustavus’s chances looked grim early in singles. Aaron Kinner defeated Grant Leisner (Sr., Andover, Minn.) 6-2, 6-3 at No. 4 to put the Tigers on top 3-1. Not long after Skinner’s win, Jordan Mayer beat Al-Houni 6-3, 6-3 at No. 5 to put Trinity within one point of decision up 4-1.
‘Our guys have played in a ton of big matches, but we faced some opponents today who are some of the toughest competitors in the country,” commented Valentini. “If you look at a guy like Skinner who has national championships under his belt and he’s playing at No. 4, that’s as good as there is. When guys like that get on a roll they can put you in a hole early. We went down 4-1, but that’s what this team has faced all year. We’ve gone toe-to-toe with some outstanding teams and found ways to battle back, so we were by no means cashing in the match at that point.”
Facing a 4-1 hole with Trinity in control after first set wins at the No. 1, 2, and 3 positions, Gustavus needed a spark. In the same vein as his gut-check victory that gave Gustavus the 5-0 win over UW-Whitewater in the second round, senior Joey MacGibbon turned the momentum to the Gusties and got the crowd back into the match.
MacGibbon was down a set after Nicolas Moreno cruised to a 6-2 win in the opening frame. The two players then traded punches in what was a back-and-forth second set. With is squad facing elimination from the tournament with the second set tied at 6-6, MacGibbon stepped up and delivered a 7-3 win in the breaker to even the score at one game apiece. The senior captain carried the energy into the third were he won 6-3 to cut the team score to 4-2.
Valentini said that Joey MacGibbon was a fantastic example of a player who wouldn’t give up. “Although his win was huge and gave us a chance, the way he competed was even more important,” he said. “He lost the first set, trailed all the way through the second, but knew he just had to stay positive and hopefully get one good look at it. He got that look, took advantage, and went on to play a beautiful third set. He exemplified the way this team battled despite what the circumstances were.”
After MacGibbon’s win, Brad Entwistle (Jr., Sioux Falls, Minn.) brought the Black and Gold within a point down 4-3 with a win at No. 6. Entwistle prevailed late in both sets, earning the straight set victory by scores of 6-4, 6-4.
“Brad played the way he is capable of and once again did what he had to do to give us a chance to come back. The combination of his win along with Joeys’ gave us belief that we could come back.”
Despite dropping the first set in both their matches, Juan Luis Chu and Mya Smith-Dennis were both locked in grind-it-out matches at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Smith-Dennis dropped the opening set 6-3, yet came back with a 7-5 win in the second.
With Smith-Dennis’s match against Greg Haugen looking to be heading for a tiebreaker, Trinity’s Paxton Deuel fought off a surging Chu for the decisive fifth point. Deuel took the first set 7-6 with a 7-2 win in the breaker, and then completed the victory with a 7-6 win in the second after a 7-0 breaker win.
Valentini commended the Gustavus crowd and his team’s ability to seize momentum when it presented itself. “The guys stuck together and fed off great support from not only our home crowd but everyone on the roster. This was a complete team effort and I’m proud of the character and class we displayed all day.”
The Gustavus men’s tennis team finishes the 2014 season with a total of 29 wins – the most wins for Head Coach Tommy Valentini during his tenure at the helm of the program. It is also the most victories by a Gustavus team since 2009 when Steve Wilkinson’s squad went 29-6.
“I think this group committed itself to taking another step and moving this program forward,” Valtenini concluded. “This year’s seniors had the best season of their careers and had some incredibly close matches against some teams that will certainly win matches next weekend in Claremont. What they have done for Gustavus tennis has been remarkable and what they’ve accomplished is outstanding. Although I would have loved to see them get over the hump today, they have certainly put this team in a good spot moving forward. Hopefully this gives the returners and newcomers added motivation to keep improving and to not be satisfied with where we are right now.”