Two years ago, I stood in a DC bookstore and nervously followed a massive comeback in the MAC Men’s Tennis Final against Binghamton, capped off by a Sergio Arevalillo win at sixth singles that was itself a tremendous comeback.
Yesterday, I balanced a dying phone battery at a Nationals game and watched UB somehow pull off a more impressive comeback to defeat Western Michigan for their second title in three years. With the 4-3 win, again capped at sixth singles thanks to Ethan Nittolo’s 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5) comeback, Buffalo finished a perfect MAC season and will learn Tuesday of their NCAA Tournament fate.
I won’t rehash a recap — you can find a bit on Twitter and a bit on ubbulls.com, but I cannot overexaggerate this comeback. At one point, UB had lost the doubles point and five of six first singles sets. But Nittolo and Villhelm Fridell both pulled off tiebreakers in the second set, and Nittolo and Filip Grbic did the same in their third sets, and UB came all the way back from a 3-1 deficit. You might recall that two years ago the Bulls never trailed more than 2-1.
To be frank, I never expected the Bulls to get here this year. For half a decade, Nails Nickell’s formula has been a couple of seniors and an All MAC caliber underclassman who can feast on third singles opponents. This year the recruiting cycles ran out and UB boasted only two returners and a host of freshmen. No matter how highly-touted that group was, I didn’t expect them to run to the final, let alone pull off an undefeated season featuring two wins over perennial power Western Michigan, who pushed the Bulls to the limit in a 4-3 regular season win. Not with the two returners not anchoring the top of the lineup — Tony Miller is a doubles specialist and Nittolo put together a Sergio-like season at sixth singles.
Instead, they’ve won. Again. Nittolo was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Nickell now needs two hands to count his appearances in the conference final and is the first UB coach to win two team championships. He returns almost everybody from a team that is so far undefeated against non-Ivy competition.
In a bleak year punctuated by program cuts and nine-lives offensive coordinators, it’s the kind of picker-upper I needed. Congrats to the Bulls, and we’ll have more on Tuesday.
Oh, and by the way? Women’s Tennis can make it a sweep today, as well. They face Miami at noon for their own MAC title.