For a team that has been pegged as the underdog more often than not in the past few weeks, the Maroons proved to be accomplished front-runners as they saw off DePauw and Earlham on Saturday.
No. 29 Chicago (6–1), which has now extended its winning streak to five matches, scored a 7–2 victory over DePauw (2–6) before beating No. 30 Earlham (7–2) by a score of 6–3.
Head coach Jay Tee pinpointed DePauw’s doubles lineup as a potential threat before the match, but the Maroons were able to secure all three doubles points with relative comfort.
Third-year Krishna Ravella and second-year Deepak Sabada won 8–6 in the No. 1 spot, second-year Ankur Bhargava and first-year Neil Karandikar saw off their opponents 8–4 at No. 2, and first-years Jake Crawford and Gordon Zhang earned an 8–5 victory at No. 3.
“We really, really played well first and foremost,” Tee said. “I thought the guys did a great job competing and doing all the little things right. DePauw are very energetic in doubles and, instead of matching their energy, we surpassed it.”
Things didn’t go quite as smoothly in singles play, but Chicago was able to win four of its six matches. No. 1 Sabada continued his dominant season, winning 6–2, 6–1.
“Deepak Sabada at No. 1 has been our leader all year and did a great job against a really, really tough player in Sam Miles,” Tee said. “Miles has made the NCAA tournament the last few years and just on Thursday beat the No. 1 player from Butler University, who is a fantastic player, and Deepak made quick work of him.”
Bhargava struggled at No. 2, falling into a back-and-forth encounter that ended with a score of 6–4, 0–6, 10–8. However, the Maroons bounced back from that loss quickly with Crawford, third-year Alexander Golovin, and Zhang picking up straight sets victories at Nos. 3, 4, and 5, respectively. Fourth-year Harrison Abrams dropped his No. 6 match, 6–1, 6–3, but the team victory had already been secured.
DePauw has struggled this season after finishing last year as one of the top 30 teams in the nation. It has fallen out of the national rankings with a slow start to the season, and, after this defeat to Chicago, will likely drop down in the regional rankings, where it currently sits one place ahead of the Maroons at sixth. The new rankings will be released on Thursday.
If DePauw was a team in decline heading into this weekend, then Earlham was certainly a squad on the upswing, coming into the match on the back of seven straight wins. Chicago struggled to slow that momentum, dropping its opening two doubles games, before steadying itself with a win in the third.
The Maroons’ No. 1 doubles team of Sabada and Ravella lost 8–2 and Bhargava and Karandikar went down 8–5 at No. 2. Crawford and Zhang were able to salvage a point with an 8–5 win at No. 3.
“I think the first match was such an emotional high that we had a little mental lapse during doubles, but we found our way in singles,” Tee said. “We’re lucky enough that we’re very deep in singles and very good, and we can sometimes make up for a lapse, not that we like to, but we’re fortunate enough that we’re very good in singles.”
Chicago was not unsettled by the disappointment though, winning five of six singles points, its only loss coming in the No. 5 spot when Zhang had to retire due to a cramp while trailing 7–5, 3–0.
Sabada was able to see out a 7–6 (7–2), 6–3 victory at No. 1. Bhargava cruised at No. 2, winning 6–2, 6–3, before No. 3 Crawford won by the same score. Wins at No. 4 for Golovin and No. 6 for Abrams saw out a 6–3 victory.
The Maroons, who can rightfully be pleased with two impressive victories against opponents of similar quality, must move on quickly, with their next match coming up on Thursday. There is a large portion of the season still to play for Chicago, but Tee is happy with his team’s progress so far.
“At the beginning of the year, our goal was to be a top 10 team and, other than the little upset against Kenyon, I think we’re well on our way to achieving those goals,” Tee said. “We still have a really tough schedule ahead of us, but we’ve taken care of what we need to take care of so far.”
The Maroons face Seward CC at 5 p.m. on Thursday at Five Seasons in Burr Ridge, IL.