April 23, 2014

Men’s tennis falls to Westminster in SLIAC semis, finishes third overall

Webster University junior Ricky Eaves and the Gorloks couldn't get by Westminster College in the SLIAC tournament semifinals. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY MACKENZIE WILDER.

By Ryan Jecha

The Webster University men’s tennis team wrapped up its season this past weekend by finishing third in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. The Gorloks set a program record with 14 wins on the season and entered the SLIAC tournament as one of the favorites to win it.

Webster was ready for the April 20 and 21 tournament at the outdoor Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park. But rain on April 20 forced the SLIAC to move the first day of the tournament to the Sunset Tennis Center, an indoor facility.

This was just the beginning of many issues for Webster.

The Gorloks had not played indoors all season long, as their home facility is the outdoor Webster Groves Tennis Center. The unfamiliarity with the conditions was evident, as Webster lost 5-0 to Westminster College in the semifinals.

“Some guys on the team need to play outside,” junior Diego Alarcon said. “When they play inside, their (shots) are too weak.”

Webster earned a share of the SLIAC regular-season title, as the Gorloks tied Westminster and Principia College with a 4-1 conference record. However, due to the SLIAC’s quality of wins index tiebreaker, Webster was awarded the third seed for the tournament.

As the No. 3 seed, Webster did not enjoy the first-round bye that No. 1 Principia and No. 2 Westminster received. Instead, the Gorloks faced winless Eureka College in the first round on April 20 and won 5-0.

Later that day, the Gorloks faced a well-rested Westminster team that had eliminated the Gorloks from the SLIAC tournament the previous two years. Westminster was also much more familiar with playing on an indoor surface.

“I think Westminster seemed to have a bit of an advantage,” Webster coach Michael Siener said. “They seem to hit the ball a little bit harder. When you’re inside, that tends to help you out a little bit more. Westminster has a team that has won two championships. They’ve been there, done that.

“Our guys haven’t been in that situation. Maybe that gives a bit of an edge to Westminster. Obviously, no one’s making excuses. We had chances to do some good things. We just had plays to make and we didn’t make them right then, that’s all.”

Webster took early leads against Westminster in two of the three doubles matches, but the players couldn’t close it out. Westminster swept all three doubles matches and put Webster in a 3-0 hole.

“I honestly don’t know (what happened),” Siener said. “Once it got close, I thought maybe we played a little bit tight. There were some plays we needed to make that we didn’t make, and we were making them earlier. That’s how we got the lead.”

Alarcon agreed with his coach’s sentiment.

“We were playing well,” Alarcon said. “We were just too close. At the last minute, we couldn’t finish the important point and we couldn’t win the matches. It was a really sad moment. We were really close this match.”

Westminster sophomore Alec Belden defeated Webster junior Ricky Eaves in No. 3 singles, and Webster junior Wakeel Rahman lost to senior Justin Arnold in No. 6 singles to wrap up the Blue Jays’ win.

“Once we lost those doubles, I could tell we were deflated a little bit,” Siener said. “It would be difficult for us to come back and win five out of six singles matches, and obviously that didn’t happen.”

Alarcon said Westminster, which had won 11 of the past 12 SLIAC tournaments entering the 2012 tourney, had an edge in composure.

“Westminster is always a big school,” Alarcon said. “They have always been good. They have won a lot of conferences. I think the nerves that came with playing them is what killed us.”

Westminster lost 5-1 to Principia in the championship. Webster has had a difficult time matching up against Westminster the past few years, but the Gorloks have had success against Principia. Webster beat Principia 6-3 during the teams’ regular-season matchup on April 14.

Alarcon and Siener believe things might have gone their way more if they had been seeded differently.

“It would have maybe changed the outcome,” Siener said. “Maybe we play Principia and they’re thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, we just lost to this team last week.’ It would have been interesting if that was the way it worked out, but it didn’t.”

The Gorloks rebounded by beating Greenville College 7-2 on April 21 to secure the third-place finish. Webster finished the season 14-4 overall.

After battling through unfamiliar conditions, an extra match and a difficult draw, the Gorloks managed to see a ray of sunshine at the end of the storm.

“I’m pretty proud of these guys,” Siener said. “I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. For our guys to have 14 wins was pretty impressive.”

With seven juniors and five freshmen on this year’s roster, the Gorloks will have a chance to be even better next season. Webster will also welcome back junior Agustin Villalba, who is studying abroad this semester. Villalba played in the No. 1 singles spot last year.

“We’re going to go much deeper (in the tournament),” Alarcon said. “There are no seniors on this team, so we’re all returning. Also, we have two or three players that are coming for sure that will be good. I hope that will be the year.”

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