UB men’s tennis claims first-ever MAC Championship
Bulls make comeback against Binghamton, headed to first NCAA Tournament
The men’s tennis team found itself down 2-0 to Binghamton in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship match Saturday. The No. 4 seeded Bulls, who won their final two regular season matches just to qualify for the tournament, looked like they were on their way to falling in the championship match for the fourth time in six years.
Then Buffalo began its comeback.
It won the next three singles matches to set up a potential championship-clinching singles match between Buffalo’s Sergio Arevalillo and the Bearcats’ Frenk Kote.
Arevalillo delivered, and the Bulls (12-10, 2-3 MAC) are going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Buffalo defeated Binghamton (8-16, 3-2 MAC) 4-2 at Northern Illinois’ Vaughn Tennis Center in DeKalb, Illinois after the match was delayed and moved indoors due to rain.
During the middle of the second set of his match with Kote, Arevalillo, a junior, realized he could clinch the title.
“I was shaky in the beginning,” Arevalillo said. “Pablo [Alvarez] told me he won and it clicked that if I won we can be champions. I really wanted to give our seniors a chance to walk away as champions so I focused and got the win.”
In last year’s championship match against Ball State, junior Pablo Alvarez was ahead in the final match 6-5 before the match went into a tiebreaker. Ball State eventually won the set 9-7 and the championship match, 4-3.
Alvarez was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Saturday after winning his singles match, 7-6, 6-3 and pairing with sophomore Jonathan Hannestad to get Buffalo’s lone doubles win for the day.
After the tournament, head coach Lee Nickell said Saturday was redemption for Alvarez after the loss in last year’s championship.
“After losing the way we did last year, this was a redemption for Pablo,” Nickell said. “Overall, this was an unbelievable accomplishment for the program and our players. We fought through adversity all season and had many things not go our way, so to be here, I’m just happy for our players.”
This was the Bulls’ fourth championship match appearance under Nickell, but their first win. The Bulls fell in the championship 4-0 to Western Michigan in 2010 and 2012 before last season’s heart-breaking loss to Ball State, 4-3. Buffalo’s win ends a 17-year streak in which only Western Michigan or Ball State won the MAC Championship.
Despite Arevalillo and Hannestad’s doubles victory, the Bearcats got the point with two doubles victories themselves.
After senior Damien David fell in his No. 1 singles matchup, the Bulls needed to win four of the remaining five singles matches. They won the next four to clinch the title before senior Sebastian Ionescu could even finish his matchup against Ishmael Dinia.
Nickell said he envisioned this season as special, even with the struggles along the way. The Bulls suffered through a six-match losing streak during the season, including an 0-2 start to MAC play.
“I always believed in this team,” Nickell said. “When I schedule our season, I make sure to schedule for our region three top-20 teams in the Ivy League at one point, so our confidence took a bit of a hit during conference time. Still, we got the final two wins of the season and we knew that we had a chance to finish out on top.”
The Bulls had two players receive the honor of making the All-MAC Tournament team, as Alvarez and junior Amar Hromic were both selected to the team.
The Bulls now head into the NCAA Regional rounds, which will be held from May 8-10, where Arevalillo said anything is possible.
“We’re expecting a big-time team,” Arevalillo said. “We expect a top-16 team. You never know … We have all the confidence in winning the tournament and hope for the best.”
This is the third MAC title and NCAA Tournament appearance for UB Athletics this season, as the women’s soccer team and men’s basketball team also won conference championships and received automatic bids to the tournament.
The Bulls’ opponent and location will be revealed during the selection show on April 28.
Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org