Seniors prepare for first-ever NCAA bid

Four seniors on the men’s tennis team still have one last brand-new experience to check off in their undergraduate careers.

Andy Erickson, Erik Hannah, Chris Kushma and Yan Levinski will be traveling with the rest of their team to the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Championships, the program’s first NCAA championship tournament trip.

The Colonials defeated Xavier to earn the Atlantic 10 Men’s Tennis Championship, earning a berth at the NCAA tournament. It was the program’s second-ever Atlantic 10 title, with their first in 1979. Bridgette Robles, the sports information representative for the men’s tennis program, said that the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and the NCAA doesn’t have records of the 1979 season to reflect why that A-10 title didn’t earn the Colonials a NCAA berth.

“This has been an unbelievable time, and the guys are finally getting recognition for their accomplishments,” head coach Greg Munoz said. “They were my first recruiting class, our seniors. So this has been four years in the making. We hoped to have done it earlier. At least we got it done before they graduated.”

The Colonials entered the A-10 tournament seeded first this year, the fourth year in a row the program earned the top seed heading into the championships. For the past three seasons, though, GW had been unable to capitalize upon its ranking. Twice, the team fell to Xavier in the final round of the tournament and was upset by St. Bonaventure in the 2008-2009 semifinals. It was a three-year pattern of disappointment that made this season’s victory that much sweeter for the seniors, who had been denied a championship each year of their college careers.

“I am very excited to go, finally,” Kushma said. “It was always tough when we didn’t win conference, because you feel like you haven’t really done anything. It always comes down to winning conference, and we finally did it.”

The matchups for the first round of the NCAA tournament were released May 3 with GW facing nationally-ranked No. 12 Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The two programs have not met since 1979, but the Blue Devils lead the all-time series between the teams at 6-1.

As the Colonials prepare to travel to Durham, N.C., they’re aware of the challenge that Duke will pose. The team’s strategy is to focus on the NCAA tournament one match at a time, intent on furthering their success.

“It’s going to be very tough. Personally, I want to do the best I can. A realistic goal is honestly for us to just keep playing as long as possible,” Levinski said. “We cannot look too far ahead if we want to play well.”

The Colonials will face off against Duke Friday, May 13, and the winner of the match will square off against the victory of the Maryland-Michigan first-round match. Because tournament play will begin the same weekend as Commencement events, the graduating members of the men’s tennis program will take place in a special athletics graduation ceremony May 10.

“My last year on the team and first year in the NCAAs. That’s the perfect way to finish it all off,” Hannah said. “It’s going to be a unique experience.”

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