November 26, 2020

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Men’s tennis team reacts to SLIAC championship loss

As the 2013 Webster University men’s tennis team’s season began, the focus was clear — make history and become the first team in the program’s 27-year existence to take home the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament title.

Seniors Francisco Cortez (left) and Agustin Villalba shake hands during the tennis team's SLIAC semifinal match against Greenville College (Ill.) at Kings Point in Belleville, Ill., on Friday, April 26. Cortez and Villalba are two of the team's seven seniors on the 2013 roster. PHOTO BY CAROLINA DUENAS.

Before the season began, senior Wakeel Rahman came up with the idea for blue wristbands. On one side, the phrase “Raise the Banner” symbolized the ultimate goal for the season.

But the goal fell one match short, as the Gorloks lost in the SLIAC tournament championship to rival Westminster College (Mo.) 5-2. In each of the last four years, the Gorloks’ season has ended at the hands of Westminster.

“That’s really tough to come that close with the same familiar foe over and over again, and this time really, really knowing that we were better than them,” Rahman said. “All I can say is we let an opportunity get away, and I guess we’re going to have to live with it.”

Seven seniors played their final match for the Gorloks — Diego Alarcon, Francisco Cortez, Ricky Eaves, Rahman, Josh Sellmeyer, Dustin Thode and Agustin Villalba — in the championship match against the Bluejays on Saturday, April 27 at Kings Point in Belleville, Ill.

Throughout their years on the team, the seniors took the program to another level. In their freshman season, Webster doubled its win total from the previous season and broke the school record for wins in each year the seniors have been on the team.

Not only have they been apart of breaking team records, but they’ve also had their own share of individual success. Alarcon, Eaves, Sellmeyer and Villalba all finish in the top four in the record books for their careers in both singles and doubles matches wins. Eaves finishes No. 1 in singles and doubles victories with 52 and 42, respectively.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” coach Michael Siener said. “We lost — and I’m sure the guys are really disappointed — but they’ll look back, and they’ll get to see all the individual and team records that have been broken these last four years. They left their mark.

“I really wanted it for the guys to win a championship, but … (the records) are going to stand for a long time. We could go 20 years and look back, and you are still going to see the names from these four years and see their name in the top 10. They’ll always be remembered in that aspect.”

In a season in which the Gorloks had an overall record of 46-16 in doubles matches, the team couldn’t find the success in that area of the match game against Westminster. Webster went 0-3 in doubles play against the Bluejays with two of the three matches decided by a small margin. At No. 1 doubles, Cortez and Villalba  lost 9-7, and at No. 3 doubles, Alarcon and Sellmeyer fell 9-7 as well.

The doubles losses loomed large as Webster began singles play. Alarcon and Eaves both won their singles matches to inch closer to the Bluejays. But as Westminster got its fifth individual win, the match was officially over.

Both freshman Travis Blair and Sellmeyer were on the court and unable to finish their singles matches when the match was called. Blair was ahead 7-6, 5-4, and Sellmeyer was up 2-1 when the match came to a halt.

Despite the loss, the Gorloks still were able to have the most successful season in program history. Webster finished with a program-best 19-3 record and was 5-0 in SLIAC play during the regular season. That included a narrow 5-4 victory over Westminster earlier in the year. It was the first time the men’s tennis team had ever beaten the Bluejays.

Additionally, the Gorloks fought through their toughest schedule to date, which included nationally ranked Washington University in St. Louis and schools that Webster had never faced before.

Siener said he believes teams have two or three defining moments in a season. For his team, he said the Lindenwood-Belleville match at home and the Augustana College (Ill.) match on the road — both 5-4 come-from-behind victories — were great moments that helped Webster gain momentum in a long season.

“It’s pretty tough to put it in words at this point, but it was an amazing experience overall,” Rahman said. “Every step of the way was awesome, and I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys. It was a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t trade some of those memories for anything else.”

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