The men’s tennis team entered the final match of the Atlantic 10 Championship in an unfamiliar position: the underdog.
And all the pieces to an underdog story started to come together Sunday. The foe? VCU, the top seed in the tournament and the only team to hand the Colonials an A-10 defeat this season. The script? A comeback story, as GW clawed back after being down 3-0.
But GW could not put the finishing touches on a happy ending, falling 4-3 in the season’s biggest match.
“It was great that we were able to fight back like that. The boys performed at their best and our energy and spirit were at a high,” head coach Greg Munoz said. “I don’t know if the A-10 tournament has ever had as intense of a match as this one.”
The Colonials began their path to the A-10 title by defeating Richmond 5-0 Friday, and then sweeping Charlotte 4-0 in Saturday’s semifinals. It’s safe to say that GW came into Sunday’s conference final with a lot of momentum.
The Rams snatched that momentum, and the lead, early on Sunday, winning the first three singles matches of the day and nearly seizing the chance to sweep the Colonials.
GW, however, made a final push in the three remaining singles matches to tie the score 3-3.
Freshman Danil Zelenkov was the first Colonial to topple his opponent Saturday, falling in his first set, but ultimately persevering to take control of the final sets to win at No. 3 singles, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Junior Nikita Fomin also battled back to win in three sets, once again falling in the first set of his No. 1 singles match, but rebounding to win two hard-fought sets. Fomin ended the match on top, winning 4-6, 7-6, 7-6.
The final singles match was No. 4 singles, where senior Alex van Gils needed a win to prevent VCU from taking the title. He came through, prevailing in the closest match of the day. Van Gils would win in three sets, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, to earn the right for GW to fight for the title in doubles play.
“When I saw that I was the last singles player out there, it was exciting because of the support from my teammates and the cheers,” Van Gils said. “There was a lot of pressure but it was fun. Even with the pressure, we played this team tough before and we knew that we are capable of beating them.”
GW couldn’t keep the momentum going into doubles play, though, as VCU regrouped and proved why they were the No.1 seed during doubles.
The Colonials fell in No. 3 doubles, 8-3, after junior Viktor Svensson and partner freshman Danil Zelenkov could not overcome the strong Rams attack. With the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles matches still going, GW would need to sweep both matches to gain the necessary doubles point for the title.
In the end, the No. 1 doubles pairing of van Gils and junior Ulrik Thomsen couldn’t complete the comeback, falling 8-5, and securing the A-10 title for the Rams. The Rams’ victory in their first season as a part of the A-10 ended the Colonials’ attempt to earn a third straight conference title.
“We couldn’t keep it up and pull through. I’m proud, though. We knew the finals would be hard but we played well. This team has a lot of potential for the future,” van Gils said. “VCU is a great team and makes the conference stronger but it makes us have to work harder. The guys will stick together though and be great next year. They really want this.”
This season marks the fourth straight season that the Colonials have reached the finals and ended the regular season among the top of the A-10 standings. Munoz said he has witnessed steady improvement in play among the A-10 teams, with VCU already making a big impact.
“We have a target on VCU now and we are going to work to keep up with them,” Munoz said. “I think we are just a half step away. We are right there with them.”
This story was updated Tuesday, April 30 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly identified GW’s No. 3 doubles team as Leo Lapentti and Victor Svensson. The team consists of Viktor Svensson and Danil Zelenkov. We regret this error.