BY MATT MERKEL
After only three years at FUS, the men’s tennis team is eligible for the NCAA tournament after beating Penn State Behrend 5-2 in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Championships. FUS raised their winning plaque and are now qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in history.
It was an appropriate addition to the Baron vs. Lion rivalry that ended again in the Conference Championships. 2011 ended in a Behrend victory over FUS to win the AMCC. The roles were reversed this year in favor of the Barons who are now preparing for the NCAA tournament after earning eligibility for winning their conference.
“This is a new experience,” head coach Jeremy Ellis said. “We have wanted this for so long and we have talked about this moment since the beginning of the season. This year shows their character on and off the court. They are fighters.”
Franciscan started the match with doubles play hoping to win all three matches to attain an advantage against their rivals. Winning all three matches would alleviate pressure from their singles play requiring them to only win two matches to achieve victory.
The Barons, who have made it a point to improve their doubles play all season, won two out of the three matches and went up 2-1 early. Captian Paul Jarzynka and junior Brian Robau pulled out a victory against Behrend after a back and forth set ending 9-7.
“At one point we were down 3-2 and we went back and forth all match,” Jarzynka said. “We knew we could beat them. Brian (Robau) told me they were nervous and it helped us gain confidence and return better.”
Zack Quiza and Leonel Lacaya matched their teammates by winning their match 8-6 and giving the Barons a 2-1 advantage.
Later, it was up their singles play to finish the game and cap off their successful season. Lacaya quickly added another point for the Barons beating his opponent 6-0, 6-0. Robau, battling cramps in his second match, won 6-2, 6-3 in singles play adding another point for FUS. The final point was earned by their team captain who won 7-5, 6-4.
“It was so sweet to get the final victory,” Jarzynka said. “Coach told me during the match that it was a race to get the final point between me and Zack (Quiza). I’m glad that I got it for him.”
After the game, Jarzynka was informed that Ellis told him the wrong score in Quiza’s match in order to loosen him up. In reality Quiza was down 6-5 in his second set.
The men’s tennis team has a unique obstacle to hurdle for their next season; how to handle the success of being AMCC Champions.
“We are trying to set the standard for this team and FUS athletics,” Robau said. “We won’t be over confident next year. We will stay humble and work hard. Next year is a blank slate.”
The men’s tennis team is the first FUS athletic program to prepare for the NCAA tournament. The tournament has a prospective date for the weekend of May 9-11. The team is preparing for more progress, some even skipping graduation ceremony. Senior John Shultis told his coach that if they win the AMCC he would gladly skip the ceremony in order to play.
“That’s dedication,” Ellis said. “That what our whole team is based on.”
FUS will look to prepare for their next opponent at their first ever NCAA tournament in May.