BOISE, Idaho — Utah State men’s tennis (23-8, 6-1 MW) booked its ticket to the NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament after a 4-0 victory in the finals of the Mountain West Championship against UNLV (19-9, 4-3 MW) on Sunday afternoon. This will be Utah State’s first-ever team appearance in the NCAA Tournament. In 1970, the Aggies sent five individuals for its only other NCAA participation. It is also USU’s first MW Tournament title in any sport.
“It’s an awesome feeling, unreal,” said USU head coach James Wilson. “When we started the season, we wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament. That was our goal, and it’s awesome to accomplish that goal.”
The match began with doubles play, and UNLV’s tandem of Jakob Amilon, the 2017 MW Player of the Year, and Evaldo Neto defeated junior Kai Wehnelt and sophomore Samuel Serrano, 6-2, at the first position. However, senior Jack Swindells and sophomore Jonas Maier teamed up to top Ruben Alberts and Adam Gage-Brown, 6-4, at the second position to even the doubles competition.
With the doubles score tied at 1-1, all eyes moved to court three where juniors Andrew Nakajima and Jaime Barajas were in a tight match against Richard Solberg and Alexandr Cozbinov. With USU leading 4-3 and UNLV serving, the Aggies earned a service break to take a 5-3 lead. Then, Barajas used a strong second serve to win the match, 6-3, and claim the doubles point.
“It was huge,” Wilson said. “(Barajas and Nakajima) were down a break early, and just hung tough and fought really hard. In the big moments, they played to win. They played aggressive at the net, and that was the key.”
With Utah State holding a 1-0 lead, the teams turned to singles play. After blanking Solberg in the first set, freshman Sergiu Bucur found himself in a tight second set. Leading 5-4, he earned a service break at the no-ad point to win in straight sets, 6-0, 6-4, at the No. 5 spot. It was Bucur’s 12th win in a row, the longest streak for an Aggie this year.
Then, Swindells found himself serving in the second set, up 5-4. He grabbed the first three points of the game, and after he hit the top of the net on a serve, the ball dropped harmlessly into the service box for an ace. Swindells used that point to put away Neto at the No. 4 spot, 6-3, 6-4.
The final four matches all moved to three sets, and looking for a service break to clinch the championship, Maier hit a deep forehand that forced Charlie Croxford to return it out of bounds. After watching the ball sail long, Maier was rushed by his teammates as they celebrated his 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win at the No. 6 spot to clinch the championship.
“Today, we fought a tough doubles point, and came out with it,” Wilson said. “In singles, the guys were relentless from the start. They didn’t back off, and we played really well.”
The final three matches were left unfinished, as they were all moments away from starting their third sets.
The NCAA Tournament selection show is on Tuesday, May 2, and Utah State will await the announcement of its first-round opponent.
“We’ll take a couple days off, and they’ll be finishing up school,” Wilson said. “We’ll see where we’re going to go on Tuesday. It’s going to be an awesome time. It’s the first time for all of these guys, and the first time for me as a head coach. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Fans can follow USU’s men’s tennis team on Twitter @USUMensTennis, on Facebook at UtahStateMensTennis or on Instagram @USUTennis. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program on Twitter at @USUAthletics, on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics or on Instagram at @USUAthletics.
<strong>No. 45 Utah State 4, UNLV 0</strong>
1. Jakob Amilon/Evaldo Neto (UNLV) def. Kai Wehnelt/Samuel Serrano (USU) 6-2
2. Jack Swindells/Jonas Maier (USU) def. Ruben Alberts/Adam Gage-Brown (UNLV) 6-4
3. Jaime Barajas/Andrew Nakajima (USU) def. Richard Solberg/Alexandr Cozbinov (UNLV) 6-3
1. Kai Wehnelt (USU) vs. Jakob Amilon (UNLV) 4-6, 7-6 (6), unfinished
2. Jaime Barajas (USU) vs. Alexandr Cozbinov (UNLV) 3-6, 5-6, unfinished
3. Samuel Serrano (USU) vs. Ruben Alberts (UNLV) 5-7, 6-3, unfinished
4. Jack Swindells (USU) def. Evaldo Neto (UNLV) 6-3, 6-4
5. Sergiu Bucur (USU) def. Richard Solberg (UNLV) 6-0, 6-4
6. Jonas Maier (USU) def. Charlie Croxford (UNLV) 6-2, 4-6, 6-3