After losing its first individual conference match of the season and being down in singles on four of the six courts, Franciscan University men’s tennis team won its third consecutive conference title 5-1 over Penn St.-Altoona in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference finals.
“It’s what I wanted,” Head Coach Jeremy Ellis said about the third conference victory. “I think it just shows that Franciscan is here to stay. Four out of the past five years, we’ve won the championship and get runner-up one year. These past five years, we’ve made our imprint.”
The Barons started out strong, winning the first two points of the afternoon at no. 2 and no. 3 doubles. Freshmen Mitchell Plys and Connor Jooste were the first ones to win a point on the afternoon, walking off the court with an 8-2 win.
Freshmen John Gallagher and Jarek Sulak remained a perfect 12-0 when playing together at no. 2 doubles, winning 8-3 despite being the last doubles match on the court.
“I think the main thing was just us working together so quickly,” Sulak said about the partnership. “We just gelled really well together at the very beginning of the season. We have very similar playing styles so it works out really well for us.”
Only being up 2-1 after doubles put a little more pressure on the singles players since they had to win three of the remaining six matches. The Barons felt the pressure and were down early on four of the six courts but turned their play around as five Franciscan players won their first sets.
Plys was the first to win during singles play with a comfortable 6-4, 6-0 win at no. 5 singles, putting the Barons up 3-1 at that point.
At no. 3 singles, Sulak was down 3-0 in the first set but then won seven of the next nine games in the set, on his way to winning 7-5, 6-1 for Franciscan’s fourth point.
Sulak said that he could not have won his match as quickly if he did not pull out that tough first set.
“He was playing against a big server and at any moment, he had to break him to stay in the set and he did it,” Ellis said. “It just shows his mental toughness.”
Just a few minutes later, Gallagher clinched Franciscan’s fifth point and the AMCC title with a 6-4, 6-4 win at no. 4 singles.
“I’m glad John and Jarek pulled it out,” Ellis said. “They’ve been solid at three and four the entire season. For them to close out this match was huge.”
As winners of the conference tournament, the Barons receive the conference’s automatic bid to participate in the NCAA D-III tennis tournament, which will also be the team’s third consecutive appearance at the national level.
Ellis said that the third conference title and NCAA tournament appearance give the program more legitimacy and that they cannot wait to get back on the courts.
“Just give them a little rest and then we’ll get back out on the grind and make it happen,” Ellis said.
The Barons will face a still-to-be-determined opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The date and time are also still to be determined.