As their season begins to take shape and with some momentum behind them, the Maroons are preparing for what could be a very decisive point in their competitive calendar.
Chicago faces Denison on Sunday in a meet that has national and regional ramifications. Denison is ranked 27th in the nation and fifth in the Central region, two places ahead of the Maroons, and head coach Jay Tee is expecting a close-fought encounter.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge,” he said. “They’re a team ranked ahead of us in the national poll. Denison’s always a tough opponent. We’re expecting a tight match, but we’re expecting to win.”
Though it will not be the Maroon’s most difficult meet of the year—they have already played second-ranked Kenyon (and lost 9–0)—it will be a good indicator of the progress they’ve made since that loss. It will also be an opportunity to stake their claim to a spot in the nation’s top 30.
The meet against Denison comes a week after the Maroons defeated Kalamazoo 8–1. Kalamazoo began the year ranked 30th in the nation, but sits two places behind Chicago in the regional rankings at ninth. Given the Maroons’ expectations for this season, victory over opponents like Kalamazoo and Denison is imperative. And Tee is quick to emphasize the height of his team’s standards.
“We’re happy with where we’re at, but we’re not satisfied. We still want to get better. We looked at our schedule the other day, and our goal is to win every match on the schedule,” he said. “We have the confidence and hopefully the talent to be able to do that if we keep working hard every day in practice and keep getting a little better each day.”
For those expectations to be met, one gets the sense that the next few weeks will be particularly important for Chicago. Two weeks after the Denison meet, the Maroons will face DePauw, who is currently ranked sixth in the region. If Chicago is able to make it two wins out of two, the new regional rankings, which come out on March 14, are likely to make pleasant reading for Tee and his players.
Of course, theses rankings are not Chicago’s primary concern. Nor should they be. The focus, as always, remains on the next opponent. And maintaining focus in a schedule that sees the Maroons face highly competitive teams such as Kalamazoo just a day after playing much weaker teams like Lake Forest is vital.
“Playing very strong and relatively weak teams is always part of every team’s schedule,” fourth-year Harrison Abrams said. “It’s good to be able to grind through the tough matches when you’re the underdog, but it’s also important to be able to close out matches when you’re up and deserve the win.
“The flexibility of competing against very different teams, playing at new sites, and playing new lineups has always been something we try not think about too much. This was a good weekend for us, and hopefully we can make a few more tweaks for next Sunday and play even better against Denison.”
The Maroons’ match against Denison is set to begin 9 a.m. this Sunday at Five Seasons in Burr Ridge, IL.