Standing at 18–5 on the season, the No. 8 ranked Maroons defeated Gustavus Adolphus College 5–2 on Sunday to advance to the NCAA DIII National Championship quarterfinals for the first time in program history.
At the beginning of the day on Sunday, the prospects looked bleak for Chicago. The rainy atmosphere was met by two losses at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles for Chicago. A pair of fourth-years, Deepak Sabada and Ankur Bhargava, narrowly fell to Gustavus Adolphus by a score of 8–6 at No. 1 doubles. First-year Luke Tsai and second-year Max Hawkins also narrowly fell to their opponent, this time 9–7.
However, the Maroons would not allow themselves to go down so easily on the doubles end, as the No. 3 pair of first-years Nicolas Chua and David Liu were able to topple their Gustie foes by a score of 8–6, coming back from a 3–6 deficit.
With the victory by Chua and Liu, the Maroons were able to enter singles play with only a one-match deficit at 2–1. Chicago singles play took control from there, sweeping all six of their opponents. Chua and second-year Sven Kranz won both of their matches in a decisive manner, gaining their revenge against the Lions after falling to them individually earlier in the season. Sabada and Liu did not have to finish their matches as Chicago had already earned enough wins to be dubbed the winner. However, both competitors were ahead when play ceased.
The Maroons were coming into the third round of the NCAA Regional Tournament riding a well-deserved wave of momentum. They entered the Regionals ranked first, earning them a bye into the second round. On Saturday they had defeated Coe College 5–1. In this matchup, Chicago swept the singles category with decisive wins from Kranz and a pair of rookies in Peter Leung and Liu. Leung defeated third-year Ryan Hickman to clinch the victory for the South Siders. Chua, Tsai, and Sabada were all ahead in their matches when competition ceased as the Maroons had earned enough victories to ensure a win.
The South Siders had met both Gustavus Adolphus and Coe before. They defeated the Kohawks handily 9–0 and the Gusties 5–4. Given the youth of Chicago, it would have been easy for the squad to fall victim to playing down to their opponent. However, the team overcame the mental hurdle of playing a team twice and proved that, despite their youth, they are not a team to be doubted.
“At the beginning of the season we knew we had a good team, but we had a couple of close losses which were disappointing,” Chua said. “Right now we’re right where we want to be, and hopefully we can keep up the momentum and go even farther in the tournament.”
Chua’s performance earned him UAA Athlete of the Week honors for the sixth time this season. He also garnered ITA Central Rookie of the Year honors. Additionally, he has earned a singles bid for the NCAA DIII National Championship with a singles record of 26–8 on the season.
On his success, Chua said, “I’m honored and grateful to have won the award so many times. But at the end of the day, I’m here playing for the team. Individual accolades are great but I’m just trying to do my best and get the wins we need to keep moving forward.”
Chicago will head to Ohio Northern on Monday to compete against No. 2 Amherst in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships for its first appearance at Nationals. Amherst is 21–5 on the season and will surely prove to be a fierce competitor for the Maroons. Amherst and Chicago both fell to Pomona-Pitzer earlier in the season, 6–3 and 5–4, respectively.
Commenting on this upcoming week of practice before heading to Ohio, Chua added, “I don’t think we’re preparing any differently. Throughout the year we’ve trained to be the best, and I don’t think that now that we’re in the elite eight anything needs to change. We know our games and we know our strengths and now it’s just time to execute.”
The match between Chicago and Amherst will take place on Monday, May 18.