With their backs against the wall in the 2005 Atlantic 10 men’s tennis tournament, then-sophomore Daniel Balke and then-senior Daniel Raisbeck, playing at the No. 3 pairing, vied for the doubles point against Xavier.
Balke said the duo were losing most of the must-win match, but they worked the final set to a match point in their favor. Raisbeck returned the volley and the ball soared toward Balke, who said he closed his eyes, stuck his racket out and made contact with the ball, sending it to the Musketeers. On the next shot, Raisbeck “hit a winner” and celebration ensued, Balke said.
“I chucked my racket so hard – because I was so happy – that it cracked, and the whole team collapsed on me and Daniel, and we were hugging and dancing and in the middle of the court,” he said.
The Colonials would go on to lose the matchup and finish fifth at the tournament, but Balke said those minutes of celebration were his best moments in the program.
Men’s tennis will no longer have the opportunity to celebrate a hotly contested win – the program lacks enough players to hold its last season as a varsity team, effectively ending its 65-year tenure with GW. Former men’s tennis players said they learned leadership and discipline in their time with the program, along with lifelong friends they still cherish.
“I’m just very grateful to have had the opportunity to have performed for GW in the men’s tennis program,” Balke said. “And I am saddened that it’s not going to be there for the current group of guys who aren’t able to finish it out.”
The team began its earliest years in the Southern Conference, where it won eight titles in nine seasons between 1956 to 1964. In 1978, the team moved to the Atlantic 10.
In the 42 years the team has played in the A-10, the squad has won six championships. The first conference crown came in 1979 and the other five occurred between 2011 and 2016. The squad won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012 before finishing second in 2013. The squad roared back to nab three consecutive championships in as many years.
Matt Hane, a 2004 graduate, said it was upsetting for him to hear about the program’s termination at the end of the 2020-21 season. He added that the men’s tennis program was one of the biggest reasons he chose to attend GW.
“A lot of memories, a lot of good feelings and good things that I enjoyed about college, were very much tied to that program and that team,” Hane said. “That was that was one of the big pursuits, probably the biggest determining factor on why I went to GW in the first place – was to play on that team.”
Hane earned A-10 Most Outstanding Rookie Performer in 2001 and A-10 Most Outstanding Performer in 2002 and 2004. He was inducted into the GW Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016. Hane said the program taught him responsibility, leadership and management as he served as a captain in his last years with the team.
“It was a big developmental step for me, as a young person and trying to become an adult,” Hane said. “It taught you a lot of responsibility, preparing for matches, training. All that kind of fun stuff sets you up for all the good things you need to do in life.”
The program produced 14 A-10 Championship Individual Champions in singles and seven A-10 Championship Individual Champions in doubles play. Hane earned the honor in 2002 at the No. 1 spot and in 2004 as the No. 1 doubles pairing with then-junior Jake Jopling.
Hane said his fondest memories came from traveling and competing with his teammates. He added that junior tennis is typically individualistic, but collegiate tennis’ team-based approach allowed him to spend time with 10 other players.
“A couple of guys who were on the team with me back in the day are still some of my best friends now,” he said. “And they were in my wedding, I was in their wedding. So a lot of those connections were really important, and I value those a lot.”
He added that his time in the program was an overall great experience for him, which made it harder for him to find out about the team’s termination.
“It was honestly painful to hear that it was getting cut,” he said. “It feels like a part of you got taken away.”
Viktor Svensson, a 2014 graduate, said winning the A-10 tournament his senior season as an “underdog” against VCU, and extending his final year of collegiate tennis into the NCAA Tournament were the highlights of his four years at GW.
The program boasted 35 All-Conference First Team honorees and 18 All-Conference Second Team honors, including Svensson’s two Second Team nominations. Before the conference differentiated First and Second Team honors, the program notched 22 selections for All-Conference distinctions.
Svensson, who helped the team reach its highest end-of-season rank at No. 53 nationally, said he was disappointed that the program’s history couldn’t live on for future teams after it played such a large role in his life.
“We were proud to represent the school and we were hoping for our legacy as well to continue, and for the guys coming in to enjoy that experience,” he said. “It’s a great school and to be able to combine that with the tennis is such a great opportunity for athletes to get.”