The New Mexico men’s tennis season has apparently come to an end, failing to receive a bid to the ITA National Indoors despite some solid play at the regional tournament.
Head coach Ben Dunbar said players had to advance into the semifinal round to be eligible to receive an at-large bid, but the team’s nationally ranked duo (No. 15) of Bart Van Leijsen and Hayden Sabatka bowed out in the quarterfinal round.
Doubles partners Ricky Hernandez-Tong and senior Rodolfo “Fito” Jauregui did advance to the semifinal round and lost in a tiebreaker to the eventual champion, but the performance wasn’t quite enough to earn a berth to nationals.
The head coach said the absence of a national ranking for Hernandez-Tong and Jauregui probably hurt their chances when the selections were made.
“There were several teams that lost in other regions that have a national ranking,” he said. “It was decided (Tuesday) and I would’ve heard if they’d have got it.”
Although Hernandez-Tong is a sophomore, he plays like an experienced veteran and has already achieved a lot of success in his short time at UNM. Jauregui said playing alongside him feels like he’s playing with another senior.
The duo actually had a chance to close things out serving up 5-4 in the second set, but was unable to seal the deal. Jauregui said things got a little tight and credits Denver for making the plays it needed down the stretch to get the win, 4-6, 7-5, (10-5).
Dunbar said Hernandez-Tong and Jauregui have come a long way this season, but experienced how small the margin for error is first-hand against their second-seeded opponent.
He said tennis truly is a game of inches and it can literally come down to one or two points that decide the whole match.
“That’s what we’ve been stressing to the guys all the way through the fall,” Dunbar said. “Next (spring) probably 15 to 17 of the 23 matches are going to be decided by those small margins.”
Dunbar said Jauregui performed well in the consolation bracket as well. The senior won six matches before going out in the semifinal round again.
“He played a ton of matches. It was great for him, great for his development, great for his learning.”
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The head coach said the entire team yielded some good results and was pleased to see the how far the team has come.
Dunbar said he feels like the men took another big step from where the team was at the Balloon Fiesta Invitational to regionals and that’s exactly what they were looking to do.
“It’s encouraging to the staff and the men on the team, because we are seeing the progress,” Dunbar said.
Jauregui said he has seen big improvements from last year in two areas—mentality and fitness. He said the entire team has been performing 6 a.m. workouts and expects the team to be tough.
But staying mentally tough is just as important. He said he has been working with coaches and a psychologist to focus on the present, which is probably easier said than done.
“Last semester I was thinking about lots of stuff instead of just thinking about the moment,” he said. “Instead (of) thinking about how to serve that point, I was thinking about what was going to happen two points ahead.”
Jauregui said individual success for his senior year is dependent solely on what they achieve as a team. He said they want to focus on one match at a time and do whatever it takes to win conference.
Dunbar said they plan to really push hard over the next five weeks before break and are going to be ready to seize the moment when January comes around.
The team opens the spring season in Orlando, Florida on Jan. 14 against Central Florida.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.