Bulls Storm Toward MAC Title but Fall Just Short
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The men’s tennis team appeared to be doomed for an early exit in the Mid-American Conference tournament when it dropped the doubles point to Ball State (18-10, 4-3 MAC) 2-1 on Friday.
The Bulls had not won a match this season after losing the doubles point.
They didn’t appear to be ready to buck that trend as things became even more desperate when they dropped two singles points, falling behind 3-0, only one point away from elimination.
But Buffalo (11-10, 5-2 MAC) would not be denied; winning the last three singles matches, two of which went to three sets, and advancing to the MAC tournament finals for the second time in three years.
But the drama of Friday afternoon’s match proved to be too much for the Bulls, who were swept 4-0 by Western Michigan (17-10, 6-2 MAC) in the finals, falling just short of the ultimate prize.
It was a wild season for the Bulls – a season where they started 1-7, losing their number-two player in the process. Even head coach Lee Nickell had a hard time believing that his team could compete in the MAC.
The Bulls surprised him, and just about everyone else, by winning the regular season title and almost winning their first ever tournament title.
The match on Friday against Ball State was a microcosm of the Bulls’ season. Ball State was the only MAC opponent to beat the Bulls this season, and that victory had come just one week before the MAC tournament.
Ball State got ahead early but Buffalo was able to fight all the way back and put itself in a position to win.
“After losing that doubles point our guys could have said ‘we’re done,’ because we hadn’t won a match all year after losing the doubles point,” Nickell said. “And then we go into singles, and to see the shift and to see the guys fight – it was phenomenal.”
Nickell was initially confident that the Bulls would be able to handle Western Michigan in the finals, and actually preferred the match up because of a fight that broke out between the teams when they met earlier in the season.
Due to poor weather the final was forced inside, a move that benefitted Western Michigan. The Broncos have a roster full of players that hit the ball hard, and that is magnified when playing on faster indoor surfaces.
“When we played them earlier in the spring we played them outdoors on our outdoor course, which is very slow, and it slowed the ball down so they couldn’t hurt us as bad,” Nickell said. “But today they were absolutely just a buzz saw, they were just banging balls left and right and there was nothing we could do.”
The Bulls had some incredible performances over the two matches. Freshman Ivan Vereschchaga came back from a game down against Ball State to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 and continue the match and give junior Vusa Hove a chance to win. Hove won that match 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 and was leading in Saturday’s match before it was called because Western Michigan scored four points.
Despite the disappointing finish, Nickell is impressed with the progress the Bulls made this year and the steps forward that the program has taken in the past few years.
“It definitely doesn’t feel good to lose in the finals, but look at where we have been and look at where we are now,” Nickell said. “Look at where were four years ago, even three years ago when we got to the finals, we’re miles ahead of where we were then.”
Under Nickell the tennis program has gone from being perennial cellar dwellers to conference contenders. Nickell has brought the program into the light, and the Bulls don’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.
“We’ve got a really good base, we’ve got Damien David and Ivan Vereschahga as freshmen, they both dominated for the most part, through the MAC this year,” Nickell said. “[Junior] Vusa Hove didn’t lose a match in the MAC. Next year is going to be an amazing year, so I am excited about what is to come.”