First-round loss not what men expected
With a 16-8 record and seeded fourth, the No. 60 DePaul men’s tennis team had high expectations for their performance at the Big East Championship on April 29-May 1 at Notre Dame. But after a close 4-3 loss to St. John’s in the first round, their fourth 4-3 loss this season, hopes of winning conference quickly disappeared.
“Well, it was a disappointment,” said senior Ben Hartman. “It wasn’t what we wanted, expected. We were able to bounce back, handle the loss, finish up strong…our goal was to win. We didn’t expect to lose in the first round. We expected to be competitive in the semifinals.”
Hartman was not the only disappointed Blue Demon, as the loss resounded throughout the team.
“We were looking too much forward to Louisville in the semifinals and Notre Dame in the finals, but especially Louisville in the semifinals,” said junior Matija Palinic. “And we kind of underestimated St. John’s a little bit, thought they were just going to give it to us and they came out hungry, ready to play right away…we were kind of a little bit slack.”
According to Hartman, the team was simply not ready mentally for the battle put up by St. John’s.
The cold and windy weather conditions also played a role in the team’s struggle at the outdoor match, according to senior Bartosz Jozwiak.
“I didn’t think we were ready yet to play outdoors,” Jozwiak said. “Although most of the team looked pretty well outdoors, still I think a lot of us were struggling with serving and just playing outdoors is just different.”
However, Hartman said no excuses could be made for the Blue Demon loss.
“St. John’s played well and they won the match,” Hartman said. “We didn’t give it to them. They deserved to win the match. They faced the wind too. It’s not like we were the only one with the wind against us.”
But the disappointing loss could have been worse, according to Jozwiak.
“When we played against St. John’s, it was a very painful loss, but in spite of the fact, we gave ourselves a chance,” Jozwiak said. “And my colleague, my teammate, Ben [Hartman] gave us the hope. I lost my match real quick and I think, I just want to recognize that he came back from [behind]…He gave us the hope and that’s what really matters. We were real, real close. It could’ve been a bad loss, but it was a very, very close loss.”
Though things did not go their way and the team was feeling down on themselves, according to Head Coach Matt Brothers, they were able to bounce back and finish strong with a 4-0 win against the UConn and a 4-2 victory over Marquette to claim fifth.
“We finished on a good note, a positive, good note for our seniors who both got a chance to contribute to the win [against Marquette] and go out feeling good,” Brothers said. “Erase part of the nightmare of the St. John’s match, if you will.”
Though the team was unable to accomplish their goals of winning the Big East, the season was not for nothing.
“We reached a program high of No. 47 in the country and to be honest, when you look back at some of the matches, the close matches that we lost, it was several, two or three of them came down to tiebreakers in a third set that just didn’t go our way,” Brothers said. “Had two or three of those matches gone a different way, gone in our favor, we very well could still be playing.”
The only two teams that truly beat the Blue Demons, according to Palinic, were New Mexico, a 6-1 loss, and the University of South Florida, also a 6-1 road loss.
“I think that was one of the toughest things because as the season drew on, we see like, if we’d won a match here or there, we could be in a completely different spot,” said Hartman. “And it was tough to keep going to practice every day, especially when it was waiting for conference and then at conference we had a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform well there.”
But for Brothers, the hope is that the close calls will only help the returning players.
“It just makes you stronger,” Brothers said. “You just kind of take that experience and hopefully turn it around the next time you find yourself in that situation.”
Published in The DePaulia