December 1, 2020

Men’s tennis tops regionally ranked Augustana, locks up No. 1 seed in SLIAC

Webster University men’s tennis coach Michael Siener said it is a rare occurrence for a tennis match to be decided in the final singles match.

That was the storyline when the Gorloks took on the No. 17 team in the Central Region, Augustana College (Ill.) on Saturday, April 13 in Bloomington, Ill.

“We had never played Augustana before,” Siener said. “I knew they would be good. Maybe not as good as WashU (Washington University in St. Louis), but better than any other team we had played this year.”

Webster University senior Wakeel Rahman hits a forehand as he completes his leap during his doubles match at the Webster Groves Tennis Center on Sunday, April 14 against Fontbonne University. Webster’s 8-1 win over the Griffins sealed up the No. 1 seed in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. PHOTO BY DAN DUNCAN.

WashU swept Webster 9-0 two weeks prior to the Augustana match.

Webster’s start to the match couldn’t have been worse. All three of its doubles pairs fell without winning more than two games in any of the matches.

“We all got beat pretty badly,” freshman Travis Blair said. “So then we were not very optimistic going into singles, but we still wanted to show them we would not go away and give a fight at least.”

A punch-for-punch fight then began.

Webster would need to win five out of the six singles matches to earn the comeback victory. The Gorloks won the first set in five out of the six singles matches, but every Gorlok lost his second set to force a third and deciding set in all five singles matches remaining.

“You get to see how Fran (Francisco Cortez) and Diego (Alarcon) are doing,” senior Agustin Villalba said. “You get to see everybody is winning and that forces yourself to be better cause you don’t want to be the one to lose.”

As each Gorlok won his singles match, the pressure to win built onto the ones who were still playing. The overall match score was tied at 4-4 after four of Webster’s five single players won their matches.  The final singles match was in the middle of the third and deciding set with senior Josh Sellmeyer carrying the team’s hopes.

“At that point, I’m kinda freaking out,” Sellmeyer said. “It’s coming down to me. That’s never happened in my career before where the entire match comes down to me. It’s very rare to happen in tennis.”

Webster and Augustana gathered around the court of the No. 6 singles match. Sellmeyer’s match was in the third set as his court became the center of attention.

The first person to tell Sellmeyer he would be the difference in the match was Villalba. He told Sellmeyer he needed to pressure his opponent, but knew that with the style of defensive tennis Sellmeyer plays, Villalba was confident in the win. Sellmeyer said without Villalba being courtside he may not have won the match.

“After every single point, there is screaming,” Sellmeyer said. “But the one voice out of everybody that I was listening to was Agustin’s because he is one of my best friends.

“He knows what makes me tick — what helps me play better — so I was trying to tune everybody else out and listen to what he had to say.”

The two Gorloks have played together for four years on the tennis team and three years on the soccer team.

As the match went into a third-set tiebreaker that was first to 7 points, some of the Webster team had to space itself from the court.

“It was really stressful,” Blair said. “A few of us players had to stand back away, and I was cringing at every point.”

Blair was the one in Sellmeyer’s position when Webster played Lindenwood University-Belleville and it came down to the final match to decide a winner. Blair said he preferred playing in, rather than viewing, the final set because of all the stress and not being able to control the outcome.

Villalba was one of the few who chose to stay as close as possible to Sellmeyer.

“I know sometimes he just needs the support,” Villalba said. “But I was pretty confident. Like, he’s so strong mentally and I just knew he was going to win somehow.”

Sellmeyer’s 7-3 tiebreak win eased the Gorloks’ stress as they won the match with Augustana 5-4.

“I like being in the situation,” Sellmeyer said. “Not every player prefers that, of course, but I think if you ask the other guys on the team, ‘Who would you want in that pressure situation?’ — even though we have a lot of guys who could handle it — I think they would say, ‘We want Josh in that situation.’ Or at least I hope that’s what they would say.”

After the Augustana match, the Gorloks defeated Illinois Wesleyan University 7-2, a team that swept the Gorloks two years ago 9-0.

Webster also locked up the No. 1 seed in conference with wins against Fontbonne University and Principia College (Ill.), the 2012 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion. Webster took down Fontbonne 8-1 on Sunday, April 14 at the Webster Groves Tennis Center and tamed the Principia Panthers 7-2 on Thursday, April 11 in Elsah, Ill. The wins put Webster’s record at 17-2 overall.

In Villalba’s last chance to win the conference tournament, he said now it would be even more disappointing to lose as the top seed.

“It’s like our last season, and we cannot mess it up,” Villalba said. “We already beat (Greenville and Principia), so we don’t want to disappoint the whole team and everybody. It does put a little more pressure on it but gives you more confidence as well.”

Webster’s last match of the regular season is against nonconference opponent Missouri Baptist University on April 18 at 4 p.m. at the Webster Groves Tennis Center.

—Editor’s note: Josh Sellmeyer is the copy chief & layout editor of The Journal.

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