The Colonials’ final regular season match was just as tense as anticipated.
GW squared off against VCU, a new member of the Atlantic 10 and the highest-ranked opponent on the Colonials’ schedule. Both teams entered the match undefeated in conference play, ensuring that one squad would leave Tuesday’s match with a blemish on an otherwise-perfect conference record.
The No. 70 Colonials (15-6, 4-1 A-10) looked strong early, beginning the day with a 2-0 lead over the No. 29 Rams, but GW could not maintain its early advantage. VCU eventually prevailed, winning four straight hard-fought singles matches for a 4-2 victory and a perfect A-10 regular season record.
“We were anticipating this moment all year. We were very excited to play this strong VCU team and see if we could compete. I think we showed that we are right there with them,” head coach Greg Munoz said.
VCU will now enter the A-10 championship as the first seed, with GW slotted right behind at the second seed. The Colonials may not be the favorite to win the conference tournament, but this year’s squad need only look back to last season, when GW was seeded fifth and yet emerged as the A-10 champs, for inspiration.
“They earned the right to be the number one seed in the conference. Last year, we were the fifth seed, but we knew that when healthy, we were the best team,” Munoz said. “This season, VCU will be tough, but teams like Xavier and Charlotte are strong. The team that’s going to win is the team that wants it more and is healthy.”
In doubles action, at the No. 1 position, senior Alexander van Gils and junior Ulrik Thomsen defeated the Rams’ No. 30 Alexis Heugas and Dylan McCloskey 8-2. Freshman Danil Zelenkov and junior Nikita Fomin also won at the No. 2 doubles slot, 8-5, to secure the first point of the match.
Zelenkov, the reigning A-10 rookie of the week, would go on to be the only Colonial to win his singles match, winning in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2.
Playing at the No. 1 singles position, Fomin lost in straight sets to No. 29 Max Wennakoski, but the margin of victory for VCU was very slim, 7-6, 7-6.
Fomin acknowledged that he was disappointed in his personal loss after such a strong performance in the doubles match. But despite GW’s defeat, he is encouraged by the team’s play, and is optimistic as it enters into the A-10 championship.
“We all started well at the beginning with doubles but came up a little short at singles,” Fomin said. “Overall, it was close. Now we can see that we are really close and have a shot in [the] conference [tournament]. Even though we lost, it’s a loss that we can learn from.”
The team’s extremely strong regular season is complete, but GW has not yet reached its ultimate goal. Not lingering on the loss, Munoz and his squad is setting its sights on winning the A-10 tournament for the third straight season, and, in doing so, advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Munoz will give his players plenty of rest to ensure that they are healthy when the championship begins, but he recognizes the need for his squad to remain focused and determined.
“We will be successful if we rest, get healthy and keep our rhythm,” Munoz said. “Preparing and making it to the finals is a matter of mentally being ready to compete.”