Men's tennis in midst of historic season
Experience, selflessness have led to unprecedented success
Sophomore Pablo Alvarez has helped lift the Bulls to a 4-1 start this season, winning the last match on the court in tight contests the two matches. Nick Fischetti, The Spectrum
Last season, the men's tennis team went 3-4 in 4-3 matches. Three of those losses came at the end of the season and, had the Bulls been able to defeat Ball State, they would have won the Mid-American Conference (MAC) regular season championship.
This season, the Bulls have started 4-1. All four of their victories have come in 4-3 matches.
"For all four wins, it's been the last match on that we've had to win," said head coach Lee Nickell. "And we've done that."
Buffalo has been one of the best men's tennis programs in the MAC since 2010. The team won a regular season championship in 2010, and it has made the four-team MAC Tournament every year since. This season, the Bulls are reaching unprecedented success.
One of Nickell's strategies is scheduling tough opponents. The Bulls generally play a very challenging non-conference schedule featuring most of the Ivy League and other teams that are consistently at the top of their conference.
In the past, the squad has struggled early in the season because of this strategy, but this season, the Bulls are thriving.
"I just want to get a bunch of good teams - as many as we can - and just go at it," Nickell said.
The Bulls opened their spring season with a victory over No. 53 Cornell (5-4), which propelled Buffalo into the national rankings for the first time - and Nickell is proud of that.
Nickell said when he got to Buffalo in 2009, the Bulls were probably around the No. 200 team in the country. The Bulls are now ranked No. 72 and many expect them to move into the 50s next week, a concrete sign the program is moving in the right direction.
The Bulls have performed better this season due to experience, according to Nickell. The team has been able to pull together in tight matches this season because of its experience against top-tier teams.
In their first seven matches, sophomore Pablo Alvarez and junior Sebastian Ionescu have led the Bulls.
Alvarez clinched the Bulls' previous two matches as the last player on the court to pull out the final point for the victory.
Ionescu has stepped into the No. 1 spot for the Bulls after standout Vusa Hove graduated last year. Nickell says the program has changed from a group of individuals who pull for themselves to a team that cares about each other and the program. He says that is the reason the team has been able to improve this year, even without Hove.
Despite the strong start, Nickell said the team has not had a complete performance yet.
"I just want us to have a complete match," Nickell said. "The crazy thing is that we haven't had a match where everybody has played their best. Even though we are 4-1 and we've had some of the biggest wins in program history, we haven't had a full, complete match where we have played well one through six."
The Bulls have a gauntlet of top teams from other conferences to get through before they get to conference play, but they have their eyes on a MAC title.
"We felt like both championships last year [regular and postseason] were on our racket and we just let them slip through," Nickell said.
The Bulls won't play another home game until April 23 when they host Toledo (4-9) in their conference opener. This weekend, they travel to Marist (0-1). The match is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
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