By Cody Soto
A monumental season for the second-ranked Baylor Bears has finally come to an end with a 4-2 loss to three-seed Virginia in the 2015 NCAA semifinals on Monday afternoon. As much as the loss hurts for the Bears, the fact that it was on their home courts make it that much more bittersweet.
From the moment Baylor knew it was hosting the 2015 NCAA Championships, the pressure was on for head coach Matt Knoll and his team. The seniors put the weight on their shoulders and made the bold statement several times throughout the season, “We want to win the national championship at home.”
That dream was a six points away from being a reality. The loss to Virginia may have spoiled the Bears’ thoughts of hoisting a trophy at the Hurd Tennis Center, but the season should not be summarized based on Monday’s results.
The Bears (25-6) boasted an impressive 28-2 doubles record in 2015, winning 24 of those matches both at home and on the road. The Bears showed mental toughness and resiliency in Monday’s battle versus Virginia, winning the point in a tiebreaker on court three.
That doubles point helped the Bears in key moments, most recently against No. 6 TCU in the Big 12 tournament semifinals on April 25. The only losses in doubles came at the hands of top-ranked Oklahoma twice during the season.
The newest recruits for Baylor also proved to stabilize the team, most notably on court three. Sophomore Max Tchoutakian had an impressive first season for the Bears, using his athleticism to outlast many ranked opponents. The French native can possibly move up to play at the No. 2 spot next season.
Junior Felipe Rios and sophomore Vince Schneider will also return to the team in both doubles and singles. Schneider did not consistently play in the singles lineup due to some late injuries but teamed up with Rios for doubles play. Both players became successful at the No. 3 spot where they finished the season with an 8-7 (5) win over Virginia on Monday.
The biggest weapon returning to the Baylor lineup is junior Julian Lenz. Lenz was consistently ranked in the ITA top 12 singles rankings throughout the entire season, peaking at No. 1 several times in the spring.
Lenz can be a big threat against any opponent he faces. A little more consistency in key matchups can make a difference next season, but Lenz’s athleticism and skill level is a huge advantage for Baylor.
The biggest loss comes on courts two, four and five. Seniors Tony Lupieri, Diego Galeano and Mate Zsiga will exit the lineup due to graduation and leave the program better than they found it.
“We got better every year they were here,” Knoll said. “We didn’t have a typical Baylor year (when they got here). They continued to develop, and they go out on a high note, the best year in their four years. They’re special guys who care about their institution and their teammates.”
Zsiga and Galeano finished their senior year with dynamic singles showings, and Lupieri was on the brink of winning a crucial match against the Cavaliers on Monday. Zsiga finished his Baylor career with 106 singles wins which puts him as a top 10 player for Baylor.
Galeano had an impressive end to his career, winning eight decisions in 10 contests. The other two matches did not finish. He emerged as a leader this season even though he pushed that role away at first, Knoll said.
“I’m really proud of the way he finished his career,” Knoll said. “He plays with a lot of passion and he’s been our emotional leader in the locker room. He’s grown to feel comfortable in that role. He grew to feel good about that.”
Lupieri had one of the most difficult senior seasons, but he maintained a top 50 ranking in singles play throughout the season.
The decision to host the 2015 NCAA Championships was a big step for Baylor, and it was a step in the right direction. After the loss on Monday, Knoll was nothing but appreciative of how the tournament was being ran amidst the constant weather battles and schedule changes.
Although the tournament is still not over, Knoll wants to bid for another chance to host the championships.
“We really reached out to get the Waco community involved in this event because it is special,” Knoll said. “We’ve got a lot of people who are pouring a lot of energy into this championship, and I want to thank them in an appropriate way.”
A trip to the NCAA Final Four and another Big 12 regular season title will fuel the Bears as they prepare for another memorable season in 2016.