With second-year Vivek Venkataraman on a roll, men's tennis is starting their spring season off right. He continued his hot streak this weekend, winning two of his three singles matches and combining with first-year Bharath Sithian to sweep three doubles showdowns in the team's 2-1 weekend at Crawfordsville. The Maroons (7-2, 5-1 in 2005), ranked 10th in the Central Region, swept Rose-Hulman and Wabash 7-0 before falling to 25th-ranked Kenyon 6-1 Saturday.
Venkataraman improved to 5-1 in singles matches and 6-0 in doubles since the Maroons began competing again February 5. His 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat by Kenyon fourth-year Joe Freeman, ranked 29th in the region, was his first loss since he and first-year Sasha Deriy fell 9-8 to Div. II Grand Valley State October 16.
"We're expecting Vivek, along with fourth-year Jake Reckess and third-year Ward Bortz, to lead the way for the team," said head coach Marty Perry, who leads the team for his second year. "They're our experienced guys."
Venkataraman's partner at second doubles, Sithian, has also been extremely successful, going 5-1 in singles and scoring the team's only point against Kenyon with a 6-2, 2-6, 1-0 victory over Lords second-year Alex Laporte.
"We were just hoping to play well this weekend, and we got a strong effort in sweeping the first two," Perry said. "We also looked good physically and mentally against Kenyonhad some close matches against a nationally ranked first doubles team. It's a positive start to the season."
Bortz and Deriy fell 8-6 against fourth-years Borko Tesic and Mike Herrick, ranked 11th in the nation at doubles, who are both in the region's top 15 singles rankings. Bortz then fell 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 to Tesic, and Deriy dropped his match against Herrick 6-2, 6-4 in singles.
"We're trying to get everyone on the team to bring their A-game in big matches against ranked teams," Perry said. "We're looking to go into every match not worrying about who we're playing."
Chicago's toughness will be tested this weekend in Cedar Rapids, as the team faces two regionally ranked squads in Coe and Grinnell, as well as Wisconsin-LaCrosse.
"These are powerhouse teams in the Central," Perry said.
The region's top eight teams make the regional tournament, and eighth-ranked Coe presents a top opportunity for the Maroons to move up.
"Our general confidence going into every match is much higher than in the fall. We're playing well, and getting into a position to win," Perry said. "We're young, starting three first-years, but we're talented."
That talent is exemplified at the top singles spots, held by Bortz, a Wisconsin transfer, who is ranked third in the Central Region and 14th in the nation, and Deriy, who has appeared in the USTA rankings for Boys 18 and under.
The women's team, on the other hand, did not get off to the same start, falling 4-5 at 27th ranked Luther College Sunday in their first match of the spring. Despite a key victory from the 17th-ranked pairing of second-year Ade Omodele-Lucien and first-year Michele Parad, a Luther's sweep at fourth, fifth, and sixth singles sealed their victory.
"It was an exciting match," Perry said. "It's disappointing that we lost, but it's still a good start. We went right down to the wire, and we proved we can compete with the best teams in the country."
Fourth-year Christine Kim won her first set against Luther second-year Heidi Bothun 4-6, but dropped the next two at fifth singles, denying the Maroons the clinching point.
The women's team will be aided by the return of third-year Annie Miller, who made the All-UAA squad last year at second singles. Miller, who had been abroad in the fall, won her first match of the season 6-3, 6-0.
"With Omodele-Lucien and Parad here, Miller solidifies our top three," Perry said.
The Maroons, 2-3 on the year, face another quality opponent Sunday, as they travel to regional powerhouse Kalamazoo.