After beating the defending champion Amherst College, the Maroons fell in two consecutive matches to bring their historic season to an end.
In the NCAA DIII National Championship semifinals, the No. 8 South Siders lost to No. 6 Middlebury College 5–1.
Chicago came into the match at a disadvantage after its previous match against Amherst continued past midnight due to rain delays and complications with lighting on the court. Just 14 hours after the exciting victory over the Lord Jeffs, it was time for the Maroons to face off against a talented Middlebury squad.
Despite their fatigue, the South Siders put up a good fight. Fourth-years Deepak Sabada and Ankur Bhargava picked up the Maroons’ first point at No. 1 doubles with an 8–5 win. Unfortunately, the Panthers dominated from then on, winning five of the first six matches.
“Mental and physical fatigue from the Amherst match definitely hurt us a bit against Middlebury,” Sabada said. “Middlebury played a great match and deserved to win, but we definitely felt we could have competed better if we were fresher.”
Well rested, Chicago put up a better performance against UAA rivals Wash U the following night. The two teams had met previously in the year, with Wash U winning a narrow 5–4 match. Unfortunately, the Maroons were fated for a similar outcome on Wednesday.
Wash U went ahead early. At No. 3 doubles, Chicago first-years Nicolas Chua and David Liu were quickly defeated 8–3. However, the other two doubles matches were tight. At No. 1 doubles, Bhargava and Sabada edged their opponents 8–6 to tie the overall match at 1–1. In the crucial No. 2 doubles match, Wash U and Chicago went back and forth before falling just short of victory, 9–7.
To win, Chicago had to take four of the six singles matches. Things looked grim early on. Although first-year Peter Leung won 6–0, 6–4 at No. 4 singles, first-year Luke Tsai and Liu both lost in straight sets. Chicago needed to run the table to advance to the next round. For a moment, it looked like the Maroons would be able to continue their incredible year.
At No. 1 Singles, Chua forced a third set and, coming from behind, won 6–3, 3–6, 7–5. Second-year Sven Kranz, meanwhile, had forced a third set. However, with the Maroons closing in, Sabada, in a very close match, lost at No. 3 singles. The match was clinched. Chicago’s wonderful season had come to an end.
Despite the loss, the Maroons have much to be proud of after their historic season.
“It felt good for sure,” Sabada said. “We hadn’t made the NCAA tournament as a team in my three previous years here, so to make it and go as far as we did this year definitely was a thrill.”
“I thought the team’s ability to handle adversity really made this season successful. We had a bunch of 5–4 losses early in the season that we could have let bother us, but we just kept working hard and we used those experiences to pull out a 5-4 victory against Amherst,” Sabada continued.
However, regardless of the finish, the Maroons were vibrantly proud of their accomplishments in a season that will go down as one of the greatest in Chicago history.
“I think a successful season is more than just the last tournament. We’ve come so far that regardless of our results I would have said we succeeded,” Chua said.