For the past two years, the GW men’s tennis team entered the Atlantic 10 tournament as the top seed. And for the past two years, the title eluded them. This weekend, the team will once again enter the A-10 tournament – once again as the top seed – in search of the victory that has so frustratingly escaped them.
Coming off a three-match winning streak, the Colonials are confident about their ability to advance in this year’s postseason in Monroeville, Pa. Not only are they playing well, but they also have a key ingredient the young team was lacking in past years.
“We have more experience, and we’ve been getting more confident and stronger every year,” junior Chris Kushma said.
“Inexperience was our downfall last year, as well as overconfidence,” said team captain Erik Hannah, also a junior. “This year, we’re more experienced and we feel good about how we’re playing.”
“For the juniors who have been through this twice,” head coach Greg Munoz said, “they understand what they’re going into and that it’s not just handed to them.”
To that end, Munoz said the Colonials were hard at work all year in pursuit of another trip to the A-10 tournament. After dropping five straight matches in February and early March, GW rallied to win eight of its final 11 contests to finish the season strong.
“Last year, a couple of us burned out – the season seemed to take a long time,” Kushma said. “This year, it’s flown by and we have a lot of energy left.”
Munoz said the team is “going in with no expectations, but determination. It’s hard to think we’re not going to do well, but it’s a tournament. The number one basketball team doesn’t win the NCAA tournament.”
The theme of determination over expectation carried over to the team, which agreed that overconfidence plagued them in the past.
“We’re definitely not overconfident [this year],” Hannah said. “We know what it’s like to be the number one seed and lose. We definitely want to win, but we realize that we have to do our job this weekend. Nothing will be handed to us.”
Munoz also hopes that some of the pressure and focus will have shifted off GW in this year’s tournament. Xavier, the reigning tournament champion for the past two years, now has a fairly young team. Munoz feels that the “pressure to perform in the footsteps of the graduates” could place the Xavier team under the microscope, perhaps reducing the spotlight on the GW team.
With a championship, the Colonials would earn their first ever bid to the NCAA tournament.
“That would mean the world to the team,” Munoz said. “It’s a life-changing event. It’s what you play collegiate sports for. GW men’s tennis has never been there, so they know it’s a part of history they’re trying to accomplish.”
Before the team can start thinking about making history, however, there’s still unfinished business to attend to.
“Winning means I can relax and play better my senior year,” Kushma said, “because I’ll have accomplished what I’ve always wanted to.”
He has one specific opponent in mind too.
“I hope we play Xavier in the finals,” he said, “and then get a little bit of revenge.”
The tournament begins Friday, with GW getting a first-round bye and playing the winner of a morning match between Dayton and Richmond at 2 p.m.