Overcome with emotion, head coach Kyle Spencer had trouble finding the words to describe his team’s upset victory over No. 18 ranked University of North Carolina.
“I’m over the moon. I’m speechless,” said the third year coach. “I’m so proud of the guys. It’s been a very trying year this year. I’m just really happy.”
In its last season as a varsity program, the No. 70 ranked University of Maryland men’s tennis team closed out the regular season with an impressive 5-2 win over its ACC opponent, its first victory over the Tar Heels since 1990.
Heading into the season, the team was given the ignominy of being one of eight varsity teams facing elimination this year, a decision made to alleviate the athletic department’s multimillion-dollar budget deficit. With the extra distraction of the budget cuts looming over the players’ heads, the team played inconsistently throughout the season.
“It’s been up and down,” said junior John Collins, who will play for the University of Tennessee next year. “We had a really hard schedule. A bunch of guys have been fighting injuries, including myself. I’m coming back from a wrist injury. We’re just pushing and pushing. It’s tough. We didn’t get as many wins as we wanted to, but we’re still competing, and we’re still having fun.”
Despite the uneven record, the Terps (7-14, 4-7 ACC) appear to be saving their best for last, having won the past three of four matches against ranked opponents.
The statement win over North Carolina keeps the team in contention for a NCAA tournament berth and boosts its confidence going into the ACC tournament, which starts April 19.
“The beginning we had some mental issues, and we didn’t have everyone playing their best tennis at the same time,” said junior Sergio Wyss, whose win at No. 3 singles clinched the match. “Like last year, it all came together at the end, so that’s kind of a great thing.”
For Coach Spencer, he is finally seeing the team he envisioned at the beginning of the season.
“This is the level I thought we would be playing at, and for whatever reason that hasn’t happened,” he said. “We’ve shown spurts of it and never played a complete match. We’ve played some bad matches. But we never ever thought to pack it in and give up. These guys aren’t built like that. It’s just been five percent better, five percent better, five percent better – that’s been sort of like our mantra, and I think today we were 10 percent better.”
Despite the wins and accolades, the team understands its time together is nearing an end. Several players have reached out to other schools, but some like Wyss, are unsure whether or not to play elsewhere. This uncertainty, however, has not dampened how the players feel about each other.
“We love each other,” said Collins, who went to cheer on his team after his victory at No. 5 singles. “We’d do anything for each other. We poke fun of each other all the time. Everyone has a good heart about it. It’s a really good team chemistry.”
The bond was palpable during the team’s win on the warm Sunday afternoon. The players joined the approximately 50 fans to cheer on the team, chanting nicknames and shouting encouragements from start to finish.
“I loved every single moment [of my time with Maryland tennis],” said Wyss. “The tough moments, the good moments, the emotional moments - it’s been a great team. I enjoyed it all the way through. I couldn’t imagine better.”
With the budget cuts effective July 1, 2012, the fans and supporters of the Terps men’s tennis team hope that these moments will soon return to the University of Maryland.