Early struggles, including flat play and lack of energy, were major factors in the New Mexico men's tennis team loss Sunday. The team ended up digging itself into an early hole that proved too great to overcome, despite a valiant comeback effort.
The team got off to a rocky start, losing the first two doubles matches to spot Denver a 1-0 lead.
“They came in here and completely out-competed us, and that’s a tough pill to swallow because that was the main message this week,” head coach Bart Scott said.
Denver carried that momentum into singles play and took the first two singles matches as well against Jorge Escutia and Rodolfo Jauregui to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
Jauregui, seemingly on the wrong end of every no-advantage point, lost a straight set affair that was much closer than the 6-2, 6-2 score would indicate. He also committed some unforced errors down the stretch, but said he feels confident he can execute next time he gets those opportunities.
“I fought every point I could, but the guy was playing really good,” he said. “We had some deuces and he took them all. I think that was the main difference.”
Bart Van Leijsen took advantage of an early break as he joined a trio of Lobos who won their first set. After his opponent took an early break in the second, Van Leijsen responded to win the next five games to come out on top, 6-3, 6-3 and put the first Lobo point on the board.
Ricky Hernadez-Tong followed that up with a straight set victory of his own. He defeated David Fox 6-4, 6-2 to pull New Mexico within 3-2 in the team score.
The situation looked promising with Hayden Sabatka up a break in the second set and Michael Tran cruising through his second set to force a third. But instead of Sabatka closing things out bring the team score even, he found himself in a third set battle.
The Lobos needed both matches to pull out an improbable comeback, but ended up getting neither.
Tran missed out on a no-advantage game that would’ve got him right back in the match and Wyatt Lovera capitalized to take the next game and the match, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.
Henry Craig held off Sabatka after losing the first set in a tiebreaker and closed things out, 6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 6-4.
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The win gave Denver a 5-2 victory over New Mexico and dropped the Lobos to 15-14 on the season. Scott said Denver deserves a lot of credit and expects to see them advance to the national championships, but said his team showed a lot of character Sunday as well.
Scott said the team played a grueling schedule to start the season and never gave up. He said being able to weather a 3-10 start to the season and be projected as a 5-seed in the conference says a lot about what type of men are on the team. He said that if the players compete with intensity, energy and focus, the team will be as dangerous as they come.
“What we’ve been able to accomplish this year with no seniors on the team … I’m pretty proud of the guys,” Scott said. “And we’ve still got some more.”
Up next, New Mexico will play San Diego State Wednesday to make up a match that was postponed earlier in the season. The outcome could have seeding implications heading into the Mountain West Conference Championships, which start April 27 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Prior to Sunday’s match, the team hosted its 6th annual fundraiser for former assistant coach, Loren Dils. His twin brother and former head coach, Alan, said Loren was diagnosed with ALS about nine years ago. He said the support from the tennis community is very special.
“Loren has touched a lot of people across the country with coaching, but especially within Albuquerque," he said. "It’s a tight knit community and Loren was a very integral part of it … he still is.”
Loren was unable to attend Sunday’s match, but Alan said people will normally see him out there in his motorized wheelchair rooting for the team. Alan said Loren has outlived the two to five year life expectancy ALS affords, but requires around-the-clock care, and the fundraiser helps out a great deal.
Anyone interesting in making a donation can visit www.lorendils.com. There are options to contribute online or address information for mailing a check.
Robert Maler is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers cross country, tennis, and track and field. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @robert_maler.