BERKELEY, Calif. - No. 45 Utah State men’s tennis (23-9, 6-1 MW) ended its season with a 4-2 loss against No. 21 Northwestern (22-10, 7-4 B1G) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. The Aggies ended a record-breaking season by being the only team in program history to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m extremely proud of the way the guys fought today,” said USU head coach James Wilson. “We played with passion, purpose and we fought to the end. Northwestern’s a very good team. I’m so happy with the way our guys competed today, Northwestern just came out on top.”
The match started with doubles, and both teams traded early blows. First, Northwestern’s No. 53-ranked duo of Strong Kirchheimer and Dominik Stary defeated junior Kai Wehnelt and sophomore Samuel Serrano at the second position, 6-2. However, the Aggies answered back as the tandem of juniors Jaime Barajas and Andrew Nakajima defeated Northwestern’s Chris Ephron and Michael Lorenzini by a similar 6-2 score at the third position.
The win set up a showdown on court one between Utah State’s duo of senior Jack Swindells and sophomore Jonas Maier and Northwestern’s No. 80-ranked pair of Konrad Zieba and Sam Shropshire. After trading service breaks early, the teams held until the Aggies broke the Wildcats to take a 5-3 lead. After the Wildcats held serve, they broke the Aggies back to even the match at 5-5. Then, Maier hit a backhand winner down the middle of the court to earn another break for USU. Maier moved to the service line, and after dropping the first two points, USU forced a no-ad point at 40-40. On the deciding point, the teams traded shots at the net before Maier hit the net cord and dropped a volley just on Northwestern’s side to claim the doubles point.
With Utah State leading 1-0, the teams moved to singles, and the Wildcats evened the dual score as #37 Kirchheimer defeated Wehnelt at the No. 1 spot, 6-1, 6-2. Then, the Aggies answered back as freshman Sergiu Bucur won his school-record-tying 13th match in row when he defeated Ben Vandixhorn in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, at the No. 5 spot.
However, the Wildcats won the next three matches to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. First, No. 67 Konrad Zieba defeated Barajas at the No. 2 spot, 6-1, 6-4. Then, Swindells fell at the No. 4 spot against Stary, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Lastly, Serrano dropped a tight match at the No. 3 spot against Shropshire, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, as Northwestern clinched the match, 4-2.
“It was an incredible season,” Wilson said. “I feel like the guys reached new heights. Obviously, we did things that have never been done at Utah State, and it’s a testament to their hard work and dedication. I’m fortunate to be a part of it, and I’m excited about the future of Utah State tennis.”
This season, the Aggies set a school record with 23 wins, tied a school record with a nine-match winning streak, played in their first ITA National Team Indoor Championship and won both the Mountain West Regular Season title and the Tournament Championship. Utah State also reached a program-high No. 39 ranking in the ITA polls, helped by defeating then-No. 12 TCU on the road.
Fans can follow USU's men's tennis team on Twitter @USUMensTennis, on Facebook at UtahStateMensTennis or on Instagram @USUTennis. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program on Twitter at @USUAthletics, on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics or on Instagram at @USUAthletics.
#21 Northwestern 4, #45 Utah State 2
1. Jack Swindells/Jonas Maier (USU) def. #80 Konrad Zieba/Sam Shropshire (NU) 7-5
2. #53 Strong Kirchheimer/Dominik Stary (NU) def. Kai Wehnelt/Samuel Serrano (USU) 6-2
3. Jaime Barajas/Andrew Nakajima (USU) def. Chris Ephron/Michael Lorenzini (NU) 6-2
Singles 1. #37 Strong Kirchheimer (NU) def. Kai Wehnelt (USU) 6-1, 6-2 2. #67 Konrad Zieba (NU) def. Jaime Barajas (USU) 6-1, 6-4 3. Sam Shropshire (NU) def. Samuel Serrano (USU) 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 4. Dominik Stary (NU) def. Jack Swindells (USU) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 5. Sergiu Bucur (USU) def. Ben Vandixhorn (NU) 6-3, 6-2 6. Jonas Maier (USU) vs. Jason Seidman (NU) 5-7, 7-5, 3-2, unfinished
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