The men’s tennis team could be forgiven if it felt a sense of deja vu Saturday afternoon.
The Colonials (17-8) finished their season with a 4-0 loss to No. 8 Duke in the first round of NCAA play after being knocked out of the NCAA tournament last season by Blue Devils, swept by the same score as last spring.
But head coach Greg Munoz saw progress on the courts against Duke this season, despite the echoes of last year's match. He expects his team to not merely grow from another experience in the NCAA tournament, but to thrive from the competition.
“This season, with the injuries, was a tough one. But we showed that we are a really good team,” Munoz said. “We showed that we can hang with Duke. We showed that we are a great team. And next season we’ll show just how good this team can be.”
GW struggled early against Duke in its three doubles matches. The No. 1 doubles tandem of sophomore Ulrik Thomsen and junior Alexander van Gils was shut out, 8-0, and the No. 3 doubles team of senior Richard Blumenfeld and freshman Mike Kachkar fell 8-2. Senior Ugur Atalay and freshman Francisco Dias moved to the No. 2 doubles slot, but did not finish their match after the Colonials dropped the first two doubles competitions.
The Colonials then lost at No. 6 and No. 5 singles in straight sets, and Dias, who was named most outstanding performer and most outstanding rookie performer in the Atlantic 10 Conference, also dropped in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0.
GW viewed facing Duke in the first round for the second straight season as a positive, due to its familiarity with the Blue Devils squad. Though the outcome was not what the Colonials hoped for, van Gils agreed that the team made strides against its opponent this season, pushing the level of competitiveness within the individual matches to new heights.
“We knew what to expect, because they had a lot of the same guys as last year,” van Gils said. “We, of course, had a lot more expectations this year facing Duke. We know that we made progress as a team, and we are going to be even stronger next year.”
The Colonials remain young and hungry, still seeking to claim the first NCAA tournament victory in program history. This season, GW nabbed the A-10 title and advanced to NCAA competition with only eight players on their squad. Six of those athletes will return next season.
Blumenfeld and fellow senior Atalay will graduate this spring, leaving a hole in the program where two talented leaders once stood. Still, the squad believes it has the talent and motivation to compensate for their loss.
“It will be tough losing Ugur and Rich," van Gils said. "They both help our team in different ways, but they are both leaders. We are all really close on this team though, so we all have to step up and fill their roles to take care of the team.”
Munoz has also been working behind the scenes to recruit high-quality players for next year’s squad. He expects two of his recruits to join Dias as top three singles players, he said, adding necessary depth to his team after a limited lineup this season.
A tougher schedule, too, will likely equate to more national respect for the program, Munoz added, which he hopes will lead to a higher team ranking.
“My goal is for our team to be ranked in the top 40 next year,” Munoz said. “It’s time for this team to make that jump and I think that next year we will be ready to.”