Today is a good day. After squeaking into the MAC Tournament despite a final-match loss and 2-3 conference record, UB Men's Tennis advanced to the conference final from the #4 seed for the second straight year with a 4-2 win over top-seeded Northern Illinois in DeKalb, where the Huskies were hosting the tournament.
Don't be surprised in three months and change when I'm writing a preview of the conference final.
This season has been a rocky road, to say the least. A deliberately difficult March schedule proved even more challenging than expected, with UB losing handily on the road to nationally-ranked teams. That bled into the conference schedule, where narrow losses to Binghamton (unexpected) and Western Michigan (not a huge surprise) put Buffalo's back against the wall from the beginning.
Even a pair of wins against Toledo and Ball State weren't a boost of confidence; both came by narrow 4-3 scores, and UB only got into the MAC Tournament thanks to Binghamton's win over Ball State on the final day of the season.
In a four-team tournament, you just need to get in and get a little bit of luck. Happily, it wasn't luck today. UB had won this season almost despite their top two singles slots, where Pablo Alvarez and Damien David were a combined 2-8 in the MAC season. When the doubles point and the bottom half of the lineup performed, UB won, but never got a strong top-to-bottom effort.
Today was a different story, and the Bulls are on to their fourth MAC Final in six years as a result.
First, the doubles point. Early in the season, Coach Nickell often lamented his team's doubles struggles, but Buffalo has now won six straight doubles points against MAC competition. Today, UB and NIU each won a set easily at #2 and #3, but UB took the point after Jonathan Hannestad and Sergio Arevalillo broke their opponents at 4-4 and held serve for the 6-4 win.
Once you take the doubles point, you only need to split the singles matches. UB managed that in the first set with Damien David (#1), Pablo Alvarez (#2), and Amar Hromic (#5) winning their first sets. UB hadn't gotten two points from #1 and #2 in some time, and only lost the first sets at #4 and #6 7-5, so things were looking good.
The second set determined three more points, and once again UB took advantage. Alvarez and Hromic won 7-5 while Arevalillo went down at #6. Still, that left a 3-1 lead for the Bulls, needing to win just won of the three remaining matches to advance.
NIU's Tom Hjertonsson broke Johnathan Hannestad early and held a 4-1 lead that quickly finished 6-4 and momentarily drew the Huskies to 3-2, but at nearly the same time Damien David finished off Frederic Cadieux 6-3 to give Buffalo the win. Sebastian Ionescu's match at #3 was abandoned.
Three months ago, Coach Nickell was proclaiming this team "the best UB's ever had," and I was all but predicting a second-straight appearance in the Championship. Today, they got there. After last year losing by literally the most narrow of margins -- on a third-set tiebreaker of the last undecided singles match with the team score tied 3-3 -- there's no result but a win that will be satisfactory.
The championships match is tomorrow at 2:00 PM against the winner of Binghamton and Western Michigan. Go Bulls!