Propelled by a streak of 11 wins in its last 13 matches, the men’s tennis team is playing like it wants more than just its fifth consecutive appearance in the Atlantic 10 finals later this month.
With four wins against ranked opponents, the Colonials have risen from unranked to No. 53 in the nation in just a month, nudging up against the conference’s perennial powerhouse, No. 45 VCU.
Behind this rise, however, is a team that still remembers its humble beginning this season, knows it still needs a win against top-50 competition and understands that a midseason surge doesn’t always lead to postseason success.
“We haven’t really succeeded, we’ve just done well. But there’s still a lot of work to do,” head coach Greg Munoz said.
The Colonials started the season with a harsh schedule, heavily slated with ranked opponents and little recovery time between games. The result: a rocky 1-4 start with few signs of being a top contender – all four losses coming against ranked teams.
“We didn’t play bad in the beginning we just had trouble clinching matches,” junior Francisco Dias said. “But as we kept playing those teams, we started gaining confidence in playing at that level.”
GW’s first statement moment of the season came on the last day of February, during the beginning of a North Carolina road trip. The squad reeled from three straight wins, including a dominating 4-0 win over No. 70 Charlotte and a 4-3 upset over No. 60 UNC Wilmington.
“It was 3-3, and Ulrik [Thomsen] was playing, and he clinched it for us. After that, it kind of turned our season around. It was one of the biggest wins in our program’s history,” senior Nikita Fomin said.
While the Colonials have clicked at the right time – winning their first two conference matchups this weekend against Fordham and Richmond – the team still has plenty of obstacles, primarily their admitted individual inconsistencies. And the parallels to last year’s loss in the finals still loom large.
A year ago, the squad started 3-3 and finished the season 17-7. They started the season unranked and peaked midway through the season at No. 49, until they fell out of the national rankings and eventually out of the race for an NCAA bid.
But there are reasons why a dropoff shouldn’t plague the team this time around. Thomsen has elevated his play this year, while his doubles partner, senior Viktor Svensson, has stepped up as another team leader – unexpected factors in the team’s recent success.
Though they play farther down in the order than their younger counterparts, Svensson and Thomsen have earned their teammates’ respect as the team has excelled.
“[Viktor] was always the quiet one, but this year he has brought a lot of energy and proven himself to be very vocal and that’s helped the team a lot in focusing and getting energy for fighting tough matches,” Dias said.
Since starting the season with a 1-4 doubles record, the tandem has gone 7-2 and proven that they can be vital to the team’s success, even at the No. 3 doubles position. With such a small roster, Munoz has been forced to play the senior duo every match, despite their limited experience on the court together.
Last year, Svensson rarely saw action in competition, but has contributed in every match this year, usually in the form of match-sealing points. On Saturday against Richmond, the duo clinched the vital double points for GW with an 8-7 victory.
The team takes on Georgetown and George Mason this week before the A-10 Tournament begins April 17.