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Gorloks upset Principia, earn share of SLIAC regular-season title
After defeating first-place Principia College 6-3 on April 14 in its final conference match of the season, the Webster University men’s tennis team moved into a three-way tie atop the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 4-1 record.
However, because of the SLIAC’s quality of wins index tiebreaker, Webster was seeded No. 3 for the SLIAC tournament while Principia and Westminster College were seeded 1 and 2, respectively.
Seeds 1 and 2 receive a first-round bye in the SLIAC tournament, while No. 3 Webster has to play an extra match against winless Eureka College (0-8 overall, 0-5 SLIAC) on April 20 before a potential second-round match against Westminster later that day.
“It doesn’t look fair for us because we’re third and we just beat a team that was No. 1 the whole year,” Webster coach Michael Siener said. “Of course I’m going to look at it like, ‘Oh, that’s not fair.’ If you interviewed (Principia coach) Casey Reynolds, he’d probably say, ‘Oh, we didn’t play well that day, but look at our resume throughout the year. We have ‘X’ amount of wins. We’re the better team. We should be seeded one.’
“They have the formula. That’s what’s set. You can’t argue with it. It can’t be changed.”
While it can’t be changed this season, the tiebreaker process can be brought up for discussion when the SLIAC tennis coaches meet in the offseason.
“We’ve never talked about it because Westminster has won the league (three) years in a row,” Siener said. “It has never really been close, so it has never come up for discussion. It can be evaluated and changed maybe in the future if this ever happens again, but it is what it is.”
Webster played itself into top-seed contention after beating the then-undefeated Principia Panthers (10-5 overall, 4-1 SLIAC) at the Webster Groves Tennis Center. The Gorloks lost two out of the three doubles matches, but made up for it by winning five out of six singles matches.
Juniors Francisco Cortez, Ricky Eaves and Wakeel Rahman won their matches in three tough sets. Cortez won at No. 2 singles 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4, while Eaves won 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 at No. 3 singles. Rahman won at No. 6 singles 7-5, 6-7, 6-3. Rahman’s victory, along with junior Diego Alarcon’s straight-sets win at No. 1 singles, clinched the Gorloks’ win over Principia.
“I knew we were up 4-3 heading into it, so all we needed was one more victory to clinch it,” Rahman said. “In that third set, the way we were playing, it was a match that was going to come down to endurance. By his body language and the way he was starting to hit the ball, I could tell he was reeling. I took advantage of that.
“I knew he wouldn’t be able to play at a high level the entire third set. Even after I lost that second set, I was pretty confident just because of his fitness level.”
Junior Josh Sellmeyer extended his undefeated record in singles matches to 12 by defeating his opponent at the No. 4 spot 6-3, 6-2.
“I’m starting to get to the point where I’d be surprised if he lost no matter who we’re playing,” Siener said. “His instincts, tennis IQ and competitiveness are just off the charts. He’s made me look bad as a coach because I didn’t have him in the top six last year, and now he’s just winning every match at 4. If he continues to make me look bad, I’m fine with that.”
Webster lost a close nonconference match against Maryville University 5-4 on April 12 at the Webster Groves Tennis Center. Webster defeated Maryville in four out of six singles matches, but lost all three doubles matches.
The Gorloks would have still been the third seed in the SLIAC tournament even if they had lost to Principia, but the victory over the Panthers wasn’t meaningless.
“I don’t think we’d believe in ourselves had we lost to (Principia),” Rahman said. “Knowing they’re the (No.) 1 seed and we already have a big victory over them, that’s big for our mentality.”
Earlier in the regular season, the Gorloks beat Eureka 9-0 and fell 6-3 to Westminster. Webster will have to defeat both teams to earn a shot at the April 21 SLIAC tournament championship. All conference tourney matches will be played at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park.
“It might play into our advantage,” Rahman said. “We’ll get a chance to play a practice match. Not to demean Eureka, but last time it was 9-0 and none of the matches were close. It’ll be a nice tuneup. That way we’ll have a little sweat on us going into (Westminster).”
Webster heads into the SLIAC tournament with a 12-3 overall record and a share of the SLIAC regular-season title for the first time in program history. Though the Gorloks don’t have a first-round bye like Principia and Westminster, Siener said it won’t affect the team.
“We’ve got to beat both teams anyways, so it really isn’t going to matter,” Siener said. “It makes the road a little tougher. But with this group, I’m still pretty confident.”