ATLAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. -- Just reaching the finish line Wednesday night was a major achievement. Doing so with a victory in the 2014 NCAA Division II Men’s Tennis Championship made the night-owl circumstances more than worth it.
In a day marred by weather delays, No. 17 Midwestern State upset No. 13 UC-San Diego 5-1 in Wednesday’s Round of 16 at Sanlando Park. It was the first of eight Round of 16 men’s matches completed, with the Mustangs punching their pass to Thursday’s quarterfinals, where they’ll face top-ranked West Florida.
“That’s a good thing,” Midwestern State head coach Scott Linn said, chuckling at his team’s first-to-the-finish-line status. “We get to rest more, sort of. We had to wait a long time, too, like everybody else.”Kyle Davidson earned Midwestern’s decisive fifth point, beating UC San Diego’s Rajeev Herekar 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 at No. 2 singles. And although Midwestern (19-6) and UC San Diego (15-10) were the first men’s teams to play, and the first to finish, it wasn’t a literal skate in Sanlando Park.
“UC San Diego’s a good program and they get to play a great schedule -- all the California schools,” Linn said. “I think they played UCLA last month. so they’re definitely comfortable with the level of tennis, so yeah, it was a tough match. ... we did a good job to get through them today.”
In the opening doubles round, UC San Diego won at No. 1. Midwestern State countered with victories at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles to take a 2-1 lead. Then, the singles grind began. Various Mustangs slowly crept ahead, with Ramon Toyos’ 6-1, 6-0 victory against UC-San Diego’s Ganesh Alagappan staking a 3-1 Midwestern State lead.
At No. 4 singles, Jarrod Liston needed three sets to subdue Kona Luu 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. But it gave the Mustangs a 4-1 lead and the race was on at No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 and No. 6 singles, with the No. 1 and No. 5 matches reaching the third set.
Davidson, at No. 2 singles, made sure the match ended on his court.
“These were all returners,” Linn said of his experienced lineup. “So there’s not a whole lot of coaching you do. You just try to get them to focus on the next point. And they work at it every day. I couldn’t be more proud of how they got themselves ready.”
Midwestern, a quarterfinal team in the 2013 NCAA Division II men’s tournament, has a tough challenge ahead Thursday against the nation’s top-ranked team. West Florida cruised to a 5-0 victory against unranked Edinboro later Wednesday night.
“We understand because we were here last year,” Linn said. “We got to the quarters last year and people maybe thought we didn’t have the toughest draw. And this year we had a more challenging draw and we got through, and I think they wanted to prove they’re a legitimate program, and I think we’re working on that every day.”
Now, the Mustangs will work on their ZZZZs. A decent night’s sleep, laundry and nourishment were the first priorities following Wednesday’s victory against UC San Diego.
Scheduled to play one of the first four men's matches at 1 p.m., the Mustangs and Tritons watched thunder, lightning and steady rain wipe out afternoon play for all of the men’s bracket, plus the remaining women’s matches from that morning.
When play resumed between 5-6 p.m., Linn’s attention had to shift his focus from the No. 16 Midwestern State women’s team, which lost its Round of 16 match to Hawaii Pacific, to the men’s match. His assistant coach, Luke Joyce, had stayed in charge of the Midwestern State men.
“We practiced in the morning, had breakfast,” Linn said. “We had a lunch, had a mid-lunch, had a dinner. Kept them busy, tried not to let them lay in their bed -- kind of stay in the moment. It’s hard. They’re a good group of guys and they get it. I got a great assistant coach. I was with the women most of the day so I shouldn’t take credit for anything. They did a fantastic job of being ready. He did a fantastic job being ready.”