The men’s tennis team finished third at the A-10 Conference Tournament.
Junior Filip Rams had been a leader on and off the tennis court all season for the men’s tennis team. When he wasn’t winning matches as the top player for the Owls, he was often the loudest supporter and cheerleader for his teammates from the sideline. But a recent back injury hurt his chances of leading his team in the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament.
“It was a tough injury to deal with because we feel like Filip is the best player in the conference when he’s healthy,” coach Steve Mauro said. “He tried playing through it, but he just struggled a little bit, and that kind of had a domino effect on the rest of the team.”
The Owls, who were the No. 3 seed in the tournament, rolled through No. 6 seed Charlotte rather easily before losing a heartbreaker to No. 2 seed Xavier, and eventually beat Duquesne in the third place consolation game at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in St. Louis.
In the opening round quarterfinals, the Cherry and White faced off with a talented Charlotte team. The injured Rams and his doubles partner, freshman Taylor Hairston, lost, 8-5, against the 49ers’ top duo. But junior Dmitry Vizhunov and sophomore Kacper Rams countered with an 8-2 win and juniors Mansur Gishkaev and Andrey Morozov clinched the doubles point by winning 8-6. Filip Rams was able to bounce back and set the tone in singles matches by winning his match in straight sets, 6-0, 6-4. Vizhunov followed suit by winning in straight sets, as well, 6-1, 6-4, and the match was decided when Gishkaev came away with scores, 6-1, 7-5.
“They definitely should’ve been seeded higher,” Mauro said. “They were a really strong team, but we were fresh and ready, and we came away with a good win.”
Next up for Temple was a semifinals match against the defending champs, Xavier, who had already beaten the team, 5-2, earlier in the season. Despite a rare doubles loss in the first round, Filip Rams and Hairston won the first match, 8-5. Xavier counter-punched with an 8-3 win against the Gishkaev/Morozov combo. A close 8-6 final match by Kacper Rams and Vizhunov gave the point to Temple heading into the singles competitions. The Musketeers tied the score up by beating Hairston in the first match, before Vizhunov won, 6-2, 6-2. Xavier took the lead back with wins against Filip Rams and junior Stanislav Stekolshikov on courts one and two.
“Filip was still battling that back injury, otherwise, he probably would’ve won that match fairly easily,” Mauro said.
Down 3-2 and needing a victory to stay alive, the pressure was on Kacper Rams. He won the first set, 5-7, lost a close second set, 4-6, and lost the spirited final set, 3-6. With the match already decided and Xavier moving on, Gishkaev won his match to bring the score to 4-3.
“It was really unfortunate, and there was a lot of close matches,” Mauro said. “We probably win that match there with Filip healthy because that swings the score 4-3 in our favor. It hurt because our goal and expectation was to win the championship, so we’re a little disappointed.”
The team still had to pick themselves up and find the focus to play the consolation game, which is no easy task after losing such a heart-breaking match. The doubles point was secured after the first two matches went Temple’s way. Filip Rams, conceded defeat after the back injury became too painful to play with halfway through the first match.
Kacper Rams won in straight sets on court four to take back the lead, but Stekolshikov and Hairston lost back-to-back matches to give the lead right back. The team was down, 3-2, again, but this time found a way to rally and get the 4-3 victory thanks to wins by Vizhunov and Gishkaev.
“It was hard to play because the guys were so down,” Mauro responded. “There were a few injuries and a couple hurdles, but it was a good effort to pull out the win.”
Xavier went on to lose handily in the championship to No. 1 seed George Washington University.
With a team set to only lose one player, Morozov, Mauro said that he believed the men’s team will compete at the top of the conference again next year.
“Our expectation will again be to win the conference,” Mauro said. “With our good nucleus returning and our skill as a team, there’s no reason for us not to be successful next season.”
Brandon Stoneburg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.