Sunday afternoon at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in St. Louis, the men’s tennis team doused head coach Greg Munoz with a cooler of water.
The Colonials had just clinched their first Atlantic 10 tournament championship since 1979, and their first NCAA tournament berth in program history. It was an especially meaningful victory for GW after it was upset for three straight years in the tournament.
“There was a lot of pain that was released,” Munoz said. “A lot of suffering that we’d had over the last four years with my seniors. It was tears and happiness.”
GW entered the tournament with an undefeated conference record and a No. 1 seed for the fourth straight season. Friday, the Colonials played their way to a 4-0 quarterfinal victory over Saint Joseph’s. Saturday, the team faced Duquesne in the semifinal round, again walking away with a 4-0 match victory. GW was headed to the finals – and slated to square off against Xavier.
For the two of the last three tournaments, GW faced off against Xavier in the final round of the conference championship. Both times, Xavier had sent the Colonials back to Foggy Bottom with a second place trophy.
“It feels like you worked so hard for nothing,” senior Erik Hannah said. “Every time it was so close and we just couldn’t get over the hump. And that’s what makes today so much sweeter.”
GW’s doubles teams set the tone for the match immediately. Senior Christopher Kushma and sophomore Alexander van Gils picked up the first doubles win with an 8-1 victory, followed by freshmen duo Viktor Svensson and Ulrik Thomsen, who grabbed an 8-2 win to secure the doubles point for the Colonials.
The Colonials’ momentum from their doubles victory spurred them on as they headed into singles play. Senior Erik Hannah earned GW’s first singles victory, defeating his opponent 6-0, 6-0 at the No. 4 singles spot. Van Gils earned another point for the Colonials at the No. 6 slot, and Kushma cemented the victory with his singles win. All of GW’s singles victories were earned in straight sets, the sort of punctuation point Munoz said his players wanted to put on the day.
“On paper, it was clear we were gonna win it,” Munoz said. “On the court, we had a goal: not just to win, but to make a statement by not dropping a match.”
Kushma’s victory sealed GW’s flawless record in the tournament. The team didn’t allow an opponent to win a single game throughout the weekend, and they dominated play every time they took the court. It was, Kushma said, an unbelievable accomplishment.
Depth was GW’s greatest weapon this season. The team added three players to the lineup, and did not graduate any players from its 2010 roster. Munoz said it was a stronger, healthier team heading into the tournament, a stark contrast to the last three years, which began with injury and ended in disappointment.
“The bottom line is: The last three years we weren’t as strong as we were in the regular season,” Munoz said. “We went in with an injury. We only had four strong players. That was a lot more pressure to have them perform every day.”
Now that GW has earned the A-10 championship, they will represent the Atlantic 10 in the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Championship, on May 19-30, at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, Calif. An unranked program heading into the NCAA tournament, GW must face a team ranked in the top-16 in the nation. Kushma can’t wait for the opportunity.
“We’re gonna play a really big power house of tennis,” Kushma said. “We’re gonna make their lives miserable. We’re gonna force them to play our game – grind it out – instead of just rolling over.”