March 1, 2012

Slugs Reach Finals of ITA National Indoor Championships. Road to becoming a Championship Team

This past weekend in St. Peter, Minnesota the Slugs walked away with a 2nd place trophy and a monstrous step towards becoming the championship team we daily discuss. After defeating two top 10 nationally ranked teams in the first two rounds, Trinity of Texas and Washington University of St. Louis, the Slugs went down to the Emory Eagles of Atlanta Georgia. It would be easy to be disappointed with falling short of a National Championship last Sunday, but that would do the weekend a great injustice. Simply put it was a fantastic and inspiring weekend with more highlights than I can count. I could not be more proud of these young men and their efforts, a truly courageous showing.

Here is the link to all the exact scores of all three matches over the weekend: https://gustavus.edu/athletics/mt/ITA/2012/2012ITAIndoors.php

Day 1: Trinity of Texas 

Coming off an up and down weekend in Washington just two weeks ago it's safe to say that there was a lot riding on this match. Trinity of Texas is a top 10 nationally ranked team in our region, and we all knew they would be gunning for us. We lost at both #1 and #2 doubles to start the match and definitely had stretches of great play by Devin Nerenber/Eli Scandalis and Erik Rosner/Ian Stanley. To avoid the sweep it came down to Erich Konig and Andre Halabi. With only one match under their belt prior to the tournament these two had an amazing finish serving out the match with an 8-6 victory; swinging the momentum back for the Slugs! Not normally feeling this positive after being down 2-1 there was something different with this match. As we got in our normal circle before beginning the singles spirits were high as we were ready for the battle ahead. The singles effort was brilliant as we won five of the six singles with Bryce Bettwy being our only loss at #5 in a third set super-breaker. Our boys brought 100% in the singles matches that day. Andre Halabi won 6-1, 6-1, showing no mercy at #3 singles. We looked fit, sharp, energized, and confident; the connection between us was strong and with Erik Rosner clinching the match with true poise, after wins by Devin, Erich Koenig, and Andre, we were off to the semi-finals. Sam Rodgers finished the day with a singles victory at #6 singles. Given all he has gone through this past year with his elbow injury, I couldn't be more proud. His journey to competing for this team is an inspiration to us all. 

Day 2: Washington University of St. Louis Missouri 

We were walking into the semi-finals against a team we had lost to twice last year 5-4. Wash U is an extremely tough and well-coached team, we were ready. The message going into that match was simple; "If it's not broken don't fix it." I was so proud of the whole team the day before and our focus was to go out and do it again. As we started the doubles the energy and fire was even higher than the day before. We were in "dog fights," at all three doubles spots but the backbone and resiliency of these boys came through. We refused to give in and before you knew it, we were on the board. It started with an amazing effort by both Devin and Eli Scandalis at #2 doubles with an 8-6 victory. Both Eli and Devin had faced challenges prior to the tournament but came together in true slug form to show they are for real. Next up was the effort by Ian Stanley and Riza (Erik Rosner) who finished a bloody match with a 7-5 tiebreaker victory at #1 doubles. I was extremely impressed with Ian's ability to play at a very high level of doubles with great focus from start to finish. He kept Riza in the match as the two of them played large when they needed to. Last was another heart filled effort by Erik Koenig and Andre at #3 doubles with a 7-5 tiebreaker victory giving us the sweep against the #3 ranked team in the country. As a team we often talk about the difference between "running towards winning" and "running away from losing." I wish you could have all seen our effort that day as it was nothing short of fearless. Devin started the singles with a tough loss to a very strong Putterman at #1 singles. Erich Koenig continued his streak of brilliance with a win at #2 and Andre faced a tough loss at #3. With three matches left we were up 4-2, one match to go! After winning the first set Erich Rosner went down 4-1 in the second as the momentum began to swing for Wash U. Both the on-court players and coaches could feel it as Erich yelled up to his teammates to come down and support him through this tough time. Riza went on to win five straight games and clinch the match for us with a level of focus and tenacity I had never seen before. The day consisted of multiple opportunities which we never hesitated to take capitalize on. After the matches finished we faced two 10 point tiebreaker losses by Bryce Bettwy and Sam Rodgers. We did a great job in both matches as the boys best tennis was starting to show. We were ready for the finals the next day. That next morning we were on to play Emory of Atlanta in our first National Championship appearance of the year.

Day 3: Emory University of Atlanta Georgia

As we warmed up before the beginning of the match that morning the boys looked sharp and relaxed. Our area of focus was again to compete like champions from start to finish; it is exactly what we did. Watching how the boys handled the momentum shift as we got swept in doubles I was very proud. They held their heads high and never gave up. There was a lot of information to take out of the doubles effort that day. We again played great stretches at all three doubles spots but didn't execute as well as we had when we needed to. We were also playing a very tough team that didn't give us much room for mistakes. We lost 8-6 at #1 doubles and 8-5 at #2 and #3 doubles. Going into the singles our focus was to finish the weekend how we had started it; together and fighting to the very end. First off was Andre at #3 singles, losing a tough match 6-4, 6-2. Andre's commitment to keep improving is showing and will continue to make him one of the toughest players at his spot in the country. Devin was next off playing the #1 player in the country Dillon Pottish. Although he lost 7-5, 6-2, it was a showing that he can compete with any player in the country. His focus never wavered from start to finish; it was a beautiful match to see. He was lucky to have one of our assistant coaches Matt Seeberger sit with him the entire match. Matt continues to amaze me with all that he brings to this team. He is becoming a huge leader for this squad and, like this group, is continually tapping into his potential on seeing what he's made of. Next up was a victory by Erich Koenig at #2 singles giving him a 5-1 record on the weekend. This was an amazing shift for him as he continues to lead this group in so many ways. It was a weekend he should truly be proud of. After facing a close loss with Riza at #4 singles Bryce and Sam were the last two to play. We got in as much of it as we could but had to cut matches short to make our flight. Sam lost one set 6-2 at the #6 spot and Bryce played the best match I had seen him play all weekend, winning in a super-breaker 10-7. Finishing the breaker with back-to-back winners made it clear that Bryce is starting to really compete at a high level. A great finish to his weekend.

What a weekend for the Slugs. We talk a lot about becoming a championship team and that is exactly what we are becoming. One of my favorite moments of the trip was watching my players move to the back seats of the team van as we all loaded in on the last day. How could this be one of my favorite moments of the weekend you might ask? As they usually compete over who gets the front seat the message they were showing me was apparent. "Team comes first, I come second." We finished a morning workout yesterday morning and the feeling in the air has changed. The boys had a different look in their eyes and spring in their step, the belief is growing in what we will accomplish this year, as it should…

After returning from Fresno this upcoming weekend, where we will play both Fresno Pacific University and Sonoma State University, we will be gearing up for our two biggest home matches of the year. Friday March 9th we will be playing Kenyon College (#7 National Ranking) at 2pm on our home east courts. Saturday March 10th will be our biggest in-region home match against CMS of Los Angeles(#5 National Ranking) at 12:00 noon. Hope to see you there!