Thus the postseason begins for the No. 13 Chicago Maroons. The team wrapped up its regular-season matches with a close win against No. 16 Gustavus Adolphus, and now heads down to sunny Altamonte Springs, FL for the UAA Championships. While one would think that the South Siders’ stellar record of 14–4 would lead to a top seed, and potentially an easy first-round match, that is certainly not the case.
The UAA is a conference stacked with top teams; there are five teams ranked in the top 25 nationally. These include No. 2 Emory, No. 3 Wash U, No. 8 Carnegie Mellon, No. 13 Chicago, and the team that the Maroons face in the first round: No. 12 Case Western Reserve. The South Siders have played two of these teams already this year, including Wash U and Case Western.
Unfortunately both of these matches ended in 5–4 losses for the Maroons. However, the team has stayed positive for good reason.
“We have had some tough losses, mostly to teams in the top 10, all four to five,” said first-year Peter Leung. “All of these matches show how much potential we have to beat top 10 or top five teams in the whole nation.”
While Chicago took on No. 5 Wash U on April 11, they played then-No. 8 Case Western on January 7, which was the fourth match of the season for a team stacked with young Maroons.
First-year Luke Tsai said, “I think that the team has grown so much from the last time we played Case. We’ve grown a lot more this season in terms of toughness from all the other matches we’ve played.”
Deepak Sabada, a fourth-year, echoed this sentiment when he said, “I think as the season has progressed, we have gotten better through our practices as well as playing some of the best teams in the country.”
At the time of their first match, Case Western was ranked No. 8 in the nation, but has since fallen to No. 12, while Chicago started the season with a ranking of No. 17, and has risen to No. 13. The two teams have had similar schedules, with the Maroons playing seven matches against ranked opponents while the Spartans have played nine. Both of these things should be indicative of a close match, and one that the Maroons are very much looking forward to.
“Case Western is a feisty team to play. They may have gotten to us the last time we played them, but this week in Florida, we know that we can trust each other so all we need to do is focus on our own match and play our hearts out,” Leung said.
“Case is obviously a great team, but I feel like we were mentally weaker during the match and ended up beating ourselves,” Tsai said. “Our team is good enough to win on all nine courts; we just need to keep believing in ourselves and execute.”
The past three seasons Chicago has gone 2–1 in the UAA Championships and have taken fifth place. But, as Sabada said, “I think we are better prepared for this tournament than we have been in the past. Also, we have had a much better overall year than we have had in the past and that gives us confidence heading in.”
If the South Siders beat the Spartans, they will take on either NYU or No. 2 Emory, two teams that they have not yet faced this season. However, Chicago will surely not look past the first team in its path, Case Western, which it will face on April 24 at 8 a.m. in Florida.