Men’s tennis strung together an impressive nine game win streak to put them at 9-3 for the season, their competitive play against high-ranking teams and ability to perform under pressure propelling them to their first national ranking in school history at No. 65.
The Bluejays, although they began their season with a tough three-game loss streak to Duke, Nebraska and North Dakota, reached a monumental step in program history when they became ranked No. 65 in the country for the first time, sandwiched between the likes of Alabama at No. 66 and South Florida at No. 64.
The team’s annual spring break trip to Orlando, Florida—where the Bluejays amassed three consecutive sweeps—was the first time they realized that they were ranked. Junior Matthew Lanahan said learning about the ranking was a large motivation to play well and put everything they had on the court.
“I think that [it] felt like our hard work is paying off and [is motivation to] keep it going and make sure we keep showing why we get the recognition we’ve been getting.”
The ranking came with hard work and the ability to work well under pressure, said head coach Tom Lilly. In mid-February, amid their consistent wins week after week, the Bluejays had their hands tied in three consecutive matches against Northern Illinois, DePaul and Omaha, where a team win came down to one final match. In all three matches, the Bluejays surmounted pressure to get a team win 4-3 over their opponents.
This ability to play through pressure, Lilly said, was essential to maintaining the team’s nine-game win streak and the national ranking.
“[Winning close matches is] really tough to do when it’s basically a coin flip, so [being able to win] the big points, the clutch points when it gets time to step up and play those bigger points in doubles and singles, we have to have a lot of poise and confidence. That’s something this team has had so far during this nine-match win streak.”
Lanahan also said the national ranking put a healthy pressure on the team to keep performing to the level they have played at.
“I think that our team has been able to perform well under pressure... I think that [the ranking’s] added pressure is good for us because it keeps us on our toes, keeps us motivated and working hard, and we know that we can’t let up because if we want to keep doing what we’ve been doing we’ve got to keep performing the way we have.”
Lanahan and the rest of the team’s success under pressure and high-level play has led them to a series of accolades over the past couple of weeks.
Along the national ranking, the Bluejays received acknowledgment in both the singles and doubles position on March 13, as Lanahan received his second consecutive Big East Male Singles Player of the Week award— his third of the season—and doubles partners Zachary Kuo (freshman) and Oscar Alvarez (fifth-year senior) were named Big East Male Doubles Team of the Week.
With the two week break since playing IUPUI coming to a close, Lilly said that the preparation for Illinois State has been strong and focused, as the team hopes to maintain their streak and stay in the match-mentality despite having so much time without match play.
“We try to make our practices competitive most of the time... we’ve been doing a lot of conditioning [plus] footwork and hitting drills, so I think we’re going to be in better shape than we were for the first twelve matches, just based on what we’ve done the last week and a half... hopefully it pays off.”
The No. 65 Bluejays take on Illinois State on March 24 at the Hanscom Tennis Courts at 12:30 p.m.
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