Men’s tennis to host MAC Championship this weekend
UB men’s tennis looks to win its third Mid-American Conference Championship in four years this weekend.
After going undefeated in conference play last season, head coach Lee Nickell maintained the team’s high level of play, going 12-9 overall and 5-2 in conference play this season. The Bulls are the No. 2 in the tournament as they look to go to the NCAA championships in consecutive years.
With the lineups set, the Bulls are prepared to host the MAC Tournament for the first time in Nickell’s ten years as head coach.
“It will be nice to finally get to host a tournament here and to do it in front of our home crowd,” Nickell said. “Minus the loss to [Western Michigan], any matches at Miller we rarely lose and haven’t lost since April 15 there. We get a great home court advantage and hope everyone shows up.”
Seniors Vidit Vaghela and Petr Vodak lead the Bulls on the court. The two play first doubles and are critical to the team, winning the doubles point. They have a 14-4 record on the year, including wins over the No. 34 and No. 70 doubles teams in the nation from Columbia and Harvard, respectively. The duo earned Buffalo’s first-ever national ranking and peaked at No. 64 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.
In singles play, the Bulls have a deep lineup with many players rotating positions. Sophomore Hao Sheng Koay primarily plays first singles and finished with a 10-5 record this season. Sophomore Villhelm Fridell played multiple games at the two through five positions and expects to play at two this weekend, according to Nickell. Freshmen Matthew Johnson and Nickolas Frisk have rotated between the five and six positions, combining for a 14-10 record.
“I see the nucleus of the team coming together with everybody firing on all cylinders and competing really well,” Nickell said. “We know we have as good a shot as any to win the tournament. This is the right time for us to peak.”
The Bulls enter the tournament hot, defeating both the No. 3 Northern Illinois Huskies (15-7, 5-2 MAC) 6-1, and the No. 4 Ball State Cardinals (14-10, 3-4 MAC) 5-2, last weekend. The Bulls’ first game is scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. against the Huskies.
“We beat them 6-1, but it was a tough match. Almost all of our matches were three sets, and they were a tough three sets,” Frisk said. “It was 6-1, but it’s a shady 6-1 because it could have gone both ways. We respect Northern Illinois as a team because we know how good they are and we know what they can do. We feel pretty confident that we are the better team.”
Nickell focused his team on the day-to-day aspects of the tournament and doesn’t want the players to get too far ahead of themselves in preparation for the match. Like a lot of coaches and athletes, Nickell is superstitious.
“It’s been numerous times in the last nine or 10 years where we would play Northern during the regular season and then instantly play them again,” Nickell said. “We always play them at the end of the regular season and then play them the next week. We’ve lost most of those regular seasons when this has happened and beaten them in the tournament. Now, I’m just kind of hopeful the roles don’t reverse and we stay locked in.”
For some players, it’s hard to not look forward and see the goals they set out at the beginning of the season.
“We’re psyched. We just want to win,” Frisk said. “It’s our first year coming in, so it would be really great for us to win the MAC Tournament and go to [the NCAA Tournament], which is the whole objective.”
If the Bulls win on Friday, the team is expected to play the Western Michigan Broncos (20-4, 7-0 MAC), who handed Buffalo its only two conference losses this season.
The Broncos defeated the Bulls 5-2 in both matches, one home and one at a neutral site.
“Clearly, we’re going to have to do something different,” Frisk said. “If it was a matter of just a game and we lost 4-3, then we could go for the same tactics. Since it wasn’t that close, we have to change a couple things, possibly game styles.”
The championship match is Saturday at 1 p.m. Depending on the weather, the match will be played indoors at the Miller Tennis Center or outdoors at Sweet Home Road High School.
Nathaniel Mendelson is a staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com.