With the first seed in the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship up for grabs, the men’s tennis team looked to take down a formidable foe in Xavier.
Xavier and Temple came into the match atop the A-10 standings, so the stakes were high.
The Musketeers were coming off a win over Saint Joseph’s last Friday, but they showed wear from their 500-plus-mile road trip from Cincinnati. The Owls could not take advantage, as they battled but came short in a 4-2 loss on Saturday at the Cheltenham Tennis Center in Elkins Park.
The Owls (14-6, 4-1 A-10) looked to A-10 Performer of the Week Philip Gegenheimer and senior Milan Juricka to continue the team’s unbeaten streak in conference play. But the breaks did not fall their way. Gegenheimer fell to Xavier standout Rob Simpson, 2-6, 1-6, and Juricka lost a seesaw battle to Doug Matthews, 6-2, 1-6, 4-6.
“Our strategy varies on our opponents,” said Simpson, of his first-place Musketeers. “[On Saturday] I just tried to make as many balls as I could, and tried to keep pressure on [Gegenheimer’s] service games, and keep strong with my service games, too.”
The Juricka-Matthews match was the most competitive of the evening. At the match’s start, the Musketeers (15-6, 6-2 A-10) were up 3-1 in singles draws. One more victory would give them the match.
After Juricka took an early lead, Matthews fought back to take a 5-4 advantage into the final set. From there, the match went back and forth. After knotting the score at deuce in the first set, Juricka went long on consecutive forehands to give Matthews the match and Xavier the victory.
Juricka said the weight of the team rested on his match.
“I was under pressure because it was a decisive point,” Juricka said. “If I lose, the whole team loses. But it was a good match. It’s just a pity I didn’t win it. I could have served better.”
Juricka’s start wasn’t indicative of his finish, Matthews said.
“[Juricka] started the match out so well,” Matthews said, “I thought I had no chance. And then in the second set, he pulled off a little bit and I started playing a lot better. I saw it was 3-2 us, and if I ended up winning the match, we wouldn’t have to play doubles. I wanted to do it for the team because I knew they wanted to get out of here and get back to Cincy.”
Temple senior Daniel Davis and freshman Eduardo Saavedra were the lone victors for the Owls.
With the win, the Musketeers moved into sole possession of first place in the conference, and gained a decisive head-to-head tiebreaker come seeding time for the A-10 Championship, which will be held this weekend in Monroesville, Pa.
With two non-conference matches remaining against Villanova and Delaware, the Owls will look to regain steam to make a run in the A-10 tournament. The winner of the tournament will get an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Owls are having their best season since 1997-98, when they went 17-8. They compiled a 3-9 record last season and did not qualify for the A-10 tournament.
Juricka said his team’s chances at attaining the NCAA automatic bid gives him an extra incentive to win.
“I’m a senior,” Juricka said. “This is my last semester, so there is always motivation to make it to the nationals.”
Temple coach Steve Mauro said he wants his team to use the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament as motivation in the A-10 Championship.
“Hopefully it will challenge us in the A-10 Conference,” Mauro said. “We’re not sure where our seeding will be. Hopefully it will be a decent one, but you never know in that tournament.”
Michael Mudrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.