SALT LAKE CITY — For the second year in a row, the University of Utah men’s tennis team is headed for the NCAA Tournament where it will face Baylor Friday in Waco, Texas, at 5 p.m. MDT.
The Utes hadn’t been to the NCAAs for 21 years before making it last year, where they lost to Oklahoma in the first round. This time they’re hoping to take it a step further and come away with some victories.
“To make the tournament for the second year in a row is very special,” said senior Dave Micevski, a senior from Macedonia who played No. 2 singles this season. “We proved that we can compete with the best teams in the country and I think it will pay off in the NCAAs. Hopefuly our season is not done and we’ll look forward to more wins in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Utes started off with a disappointing loss at BYU in January, but came back to win 12 of their next 14 matches, including a win over Miami, ranked in the top 25 at the time. In Pac-12 play, the Utes knocked off Oregon on the road and Stanford at home and then beat the Ducks again in the first match of the Pac-12 Tournament, before falling to No. 1 UCLA.
“We’ve been through a lot this year and haven’t played with a healthy lineup the entire season,” said coach Roeland Brateanu. “But we’ve had some real big moments and I am really happy for the guys. We overachieved and we look forward to the next challenge.”
Micevski was injured for much of the fall season and Randy Cory, one of the Utes’ top doubles players, was hurt for much of the spring season.
Utah’s No. 1 player is senior Dan Little, who hails from London and compiled a 15-5 record this season, including a 6-1 mark against ranked players.
“It’s a great feeling, something we aimed for all year,” said Little of making the tournament. “This year we had a lot more ups and downs, but we were able to get our best wins after our worst losses. It’s definitely been a bit more of an emotional season.”
Along with this weekend’s team competition, Little was also invited to play in the singles portion of the NCAA Tournament, which will be played May 20-25 on the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida. Little, who is currently ranked No. 47 in the nation, is the first Utah player to qualify since 2007 when Zach Ganger earned a spot in the 64-player bracket.
In Friday's match with Baylor, besides Little and Micevski, the Utes will count on Slava Shainyan, a junior from Russia at No. 3 singles; sophomore Russell Benkaim at No. 4; Mathias Gavelin, a freshman from Sweden at No. 5; and senior Joe Woolley at No. 6.
“We’re in a different place as a program; we’ve grown,” Brateanu said about making the NCAAs for the second straight year. “I think there’s bigger and better things ahead.”
Baylor is the No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and is coming off a win in the Big 12 championship over Texas, the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
If the Utes can get past Baylor, they would move on to play the winner of Michigan-Dartmouth on Saturday. Michigan is ranked No. 22 in the country and Dartmouth is No. 41.