A day after falling behind in doubles only to come back against Grinnell (22–7) with strong singles play, history repeated itself for the men’s tennis team against Trinity (16–12)—but this time the Maroons were on the losing end.
As the top-ranked team in the Central Region, the ninth-ranked Maroons (17–5) received a first round bye for the six-team regional finals of the NCAA Championship. They got off to a weak start in Saturday’s semi-final against Grinnell (22–7), falling behind after 8–4 decisions at both first and third doubles in Grinnell’s favor.
The second doubles pairing of third-year Troy Brinker and first-year Neil Karandikar kept the Maroons within reach by pulling an 8–6 win. Then the singles players went to work, sweeping the four completed pairings to clinch a berth in the final with two matches remaining. Brinker, third-year Jan Stefanski, and first-year Alex Golovin all won both sets comfortably, while second-year Harrison Abrams clinched the victory with a 7–6 (6), 6–1 victory at sixth singles.
Sunday’s final saw the Maroons matched against eleventh-ranked Trinity (16–12), the 2000 D-III national champion. The winner would advance to the NCAA team national finals at Claremont College. The Maroons held the lead after doubles play, as fourth-year co-captains Will Zhang and Kunal Pawa added a victory at third doubles to Brinker and Karandikar’s success at second doubles. However, “once we got into singles, our intensity plummeted and Trinity took full advantage,” Zhang said. Zhang and Pawa, who were competing in the unfinished singles matches against Grinnell, both fell along with Abrams and Stefanski.
“Sunday was a very painful loss, especially for Will Zhang and me, because the two of us played a great doubles match together for the first time, but we could not produce the same performance in what turned out to be our last college dual match,” Pawa said. “However, it was a good lesson for us because I think it showed what needs to be done for Chicago to not only crack into the top 10, but to maintain that level.”
Maintaining top national and UAA rankings seem to be the goal for returning players.
“We expect to build on this year’s progress,” Abrams said. “Our goal is to solidify our spot in the top 10 and move on from there. Wash U, who is probably our biggest rival, loses their two best players and other UAA schools like Carnegie lose their top players as well. When we played both of those teams, they seemed to be stronger than us at the top of their lineups, so losing their top players should be extremely helpful for us in the next year or two.”
However, Wash U and Carnegie’s superior play at the top was more indicative of their strength than any Chicago weakness. Brinker, Chicago’s three singles player, was selected to the All-UAA team for both his singles and, along with Karandikar, his second doubles play. Stefanski and Abrams also made the second team at fifth and sixth singles, respectively. But most impressively, Zhang, who topped the singles lineup, qualified for the NCAA Singles Championship for the third consecutive year. He will represent the Maroons in Claremont May 27–29, looking for glory after having reached the quarterfinals and the round of 16 the past two years.