The University of New Mexico men's tennis team took third in the annual Mountain Pacific Invitational after beating Brown University 4-1 on Sunday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Mountain Pacific Invitational is an eight-team tournament that consists of singles competition only on day one, and doubles play being introduced into the fold on the following day — guaranteeing all schools a total of three matches. Stakes are high as it is also a direct elimination tournament, meaning the team that can navigate its way to three consecutive wins — walks away as champions.
The teams that participated in this year's invitational were: the University of the Pacific, Brown University, Wichita State, University of Hawaii, Lamar University, Grand Canyon University, University of San Francisco and New Mexico, the host school, of the hosts UNM took part in the annual event.
In the first round of tournament play, the Lobos entered with a 6-4 record on the season to take on the University of Hawaii, a team that had yet to claim its first win of the season, entering the tournament with an 0-6 record. New Mexico made sure that trend continued, extending the Rainbow Warriors’ slump to seven straight team losses.
Lobo senior Bart Van Leijsen kicked the Lobos off to a flying start with a 6-2, 6-3 win over senior Felix Albert on court one, and subsequent wins from UNM sophomore Dominic West, senior Sean Baklini, and junior Ricky Hernandez-Tong helped the Lobos to a convincing 4-0 sweep.
In their second match of the day, the Lobos faced off against the Wichita State Shockers (6-5), which also swept through its first round competition, defeating San Francisco by a score of 4-0.
The Lobos fell behind early against the Shockers and ultimately could not gain enough momentum to come from behind. Van Leijsen lost his match on court two in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3, and soon after Wichita State junior Eddie Stoica beat UNM freshman Stepan Holis 7-6, 6-3 on court five.
The Lobos picked up one point on the racket of Baklini, who was victorious on court six, but the Shockers picked up two more wins to close things out and clinch an overall 4-1 victory — earning a spot in the tournament final along the way.
The Lobos had to settle for a consolation match to decide the third-place finisher in the tournament again Brown University (11-4), which won its first match against the University of the Pacific 4-3, but were denied a shot at the championship round after losing 4-2 to Grand Canyon in its second matchup.
On day two of the tournament, doubles play was integrated into the fray. This proved consequential for the Lobos; Brown University started off the third-place match by putting its front foot forward with two doubles wins to secure the all-important doubles point and take a 1-0 lead.
But the Lobos did not trail for long.
Just like the previous day against Hawaii, it was UNM’s Van Leijsen setting the tone by breaking through in singles competition. The senior defeated sophomore Jacob Walker of Brown 6-2, 6-3. Baklini and Hernandez-Tong followed up with straight-set wins of their own, with Baklini beating senior Aaron Sandberg 6-3, 6-3 and Hernandez-Tong besting senior Jack Haworth 7-5, 6-3 on court one.
The doubles point the Lobos conceded proved to be nothing more than a small consolation, as Holis’ 6-3, 7-6 win over Charles Tran sealed the 4-1 victory and a third place finish for New Mexico.
Wichita State ended up taking home the top honors, taking down Grand Canyon in the championship round by a score of 4-2. The win was the fifth consecutive for the Shockers, improving to 6-5 overall on the young season.
"It was a fun weekend of tennis," UNM head coach Ben Dunbar said in a release. "We are learning from every match, and I feel like today was a step forward, with losing the double's point but working back and being dominant in singles. Thanks to teams for coming this weekend. It was a great tournament.”
The Lobos will be headed to Wichita, Kansas, next weekend to play the University of Nebraska-Lincoln at noon on Saturday, March 10 and against Wichita State on Sunday, March 11 at 11:00 a.m.
Matthieu Cartron is a senior writer and sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers women’s soccer and men’s tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cartron_matt.