GAMBIER, Ohio - The Franciscan University of Steubenville men's tennis became the first team in school history to play in, and win in the NCAA tournament postseason.
The Barons defeated Elizabethtown College, 5-1, at Kenyon College on Friday.
"Our biggest focus was to get into the tournament and anything after that is just extra," head coach Jeremy Ellis said. "As a coach, I'm elated."
MAKING?HISTORY — The Franciscan University of Steubenville Tennis team poses after becoming the first team in school history to play in, and win in the NCAA tournament postseason with a 5-1 win over Elizabethtown College at Kenyon College on?Friday.
No. 1 doubles team, Paul Jarzynka and Brian Robau, got off to a hot start, winning the first two game but soon found themselves down 3-2. While No. 2 doubles struggled against the Blue Jays, Jarzynka and Robau gathered themselves to win the match 7-3.
"Their doubles this year has been impeccable," Ellis said of the doubles team that didn't lose a conference match all season. "They have those momentum swings. They'll go up 3-0 and then lose the next three games but the difference this year is that they've been able to calm down, focus, and just play tough tennis."
Tied at 1-1, a huge momentum builder hung on the result of the No. 3 doubles match. With the Barons up 6-4 in the first-to-eight doubles match, rain forced the teams to move mid-match into Kenyon's indoor facilities.
"We needed to take two out of three in doubles to make this win happen," Ellis said about the importance of the No. 3 doubles match. "It was nerve racking because anything can happen in doubles. Momentum can change so quickly."
After warming up indoors the Barons and Blue Jays went back and forth, with neither team able to take control. Finally Franciscan's John Shultis and David Freytag were able to close it out, winning in a tie-breaker 9-7.
"The biggest momentum change was going to be coming from outdoors to indoors," Ellis said. "But they stayed focused, they came out, and they won. I think that was the beginning of this victory."
The 2-1 lead meant FUS would need just a split in the six singles matches in the first-to-5 contest.
Despite both being down early, senior captain Jarzynka and junior Leonel Lacayo were able to be victorious in Nos. 1 and 2 singles in straight sets for a 4-1 advantage.
Robau, at No. 3 singles and No. 4 Zach Quiza both went to the third set in their respective matches.
"I felt like Quiza would close it out," Ellis said. "But I had to leave. I went to go watch basketball briefly because I just couldn't take it anymore. But I knew he would get fired up that third set and pull it out."
Despite the 5-1 final score, Ellis's need for an emotional breather demonstrates just how close each and every match really was. The team's ability to persevere in tough situations and close matches made the difference. Ellis said it only proves the team's biggest strength is mental toughness.
"Their discipline on and off the court is what's made them mentally tough," Ellis said. "Making sure that Christ is the center of what they do in athletics, in school, and in their relationships causes them to grow up much faster than their age."
The Barons move on to play Kenyon College, the second-ranked team in the country, today at 2 pm.
"I'm telling them we're Florida Gulf Coast," Ellis said, referencing the NCAA basketball cinderella team from this past year. "This is much more than just another match. It's an experience."