When it begins the Atlantic 10 Tournament Friday with the No. 1 seed and an undefeated conference record, the GW men’s tennis team will not be facing anything they haven’t seen before.
For the three returning players from last year’s similarly top-seeded, undefeated-in-conference team, this year’s tournament instead provides a chance to do what last year’s team couldn’t: Win a championship.
“Last year we were the first seed, and we lost in the final, so being the first seed doesn’t mean too much to us,” head coach Greg Munoz said of his team’s mindset coming into the tournament. “We were undefeated in conference – that doesn’t mean much to us because we have to win three more matches to get this title.”
The Colonials will enter this year’s tournament with a drastically different team than the one that lost in the conference finals to Xavier last year. They return only three players from last year, all of whom are sophomores. If this year’s Colonials are going to be successful, the team’s freshman-heavy roster will have to rely on the sophomores’ experience, sophomore captain Yan Levinski said.
“We’re trying to learn from our mistakes and more importantly we’re trying to teach our young guys the mistakes that we made when we played Xavier last time,” Levinski said.
“I think we went into the match being way too confident and stuff, and because it’s the finals, what people don’t realize is that both teams get nervous. And when you’re nervous, the outcome isn’t very clear,” he continued.
With a conference championship, the team would experience another first for the Colonials: a trip to the NCAA Tournament. When GW won its last A-10 tennis championship 30 years ago, the title did not come with an automatic bid to the national championships.
After last year’s disappointing second-place finish officially raised the bar for this team, Levinski said he sees the NCAA Tournament as within his team’s grasp.
“Last year we were really happy that we made it to the finals,” Levinski said. “But this year it’s our benchmark. We just want to take care of business this season and get into the NCAA tournament.”
Munoz, who is in his third year at GW, said a victory this year with such a young team could turn into a streak of two or three as he continues to build the program and the reputation of GW athletics as a whole. Winning a championship not only makes the tennis team look good, Munoz said, but it also raises the profile of the entire University.
“I think we were the best men’s team at GW last year and I think as the best team you hope we can bring a title home for GW. The better all the sports do, the better the school looks. Every title helps everybody,” the third-year-coach said. “We’re definitely humble going into this tournament, but we would like to bring this home for the school.”
Before any of that can happen though, the Colonials will have to focus on finishing what they started last year.
“Until we win that title, it’s unfinished business,” Munoz said.