Stroke of brilliance: Men’s win against Texas could be turning point

Senior Felipe Rios and Jimmy Bendeck celebrate a point with a high-five during the Bears’ match against Texas on Tuesday at Hurd Tennis Center. The Bears beat the Longhorns 4-2 in their last home Big 12 match of the season. Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

Starting the season off slow due to young players and injury, the Baylor men’s tennis team could have caved in.

Instead, through adversity, they have been able to keep themselves in the running for the NCAA tournament.

“Everyone who follows our results knows how many times we have lost to good teams and have had really close ones,” senior Julian Lenz said. “We never gave up. We kept practicing, trying to hold and get that one big W to try and push us into the NCAA tournament.”

At 12-9 and 1-1 in the Big 12, head coach Matt Knoll said the Bears will have to stay focused and continue to push themselves.

“We have had some adversity. Some guys have had to step into different roles. But the thing is, we just played hard,” Knoll said. “As a coach, you want to be on them. But when you step back, they are just playing so hard. The guys were really giving all they had, and you feel like if you keep doing that, some of these close matches are going to go your way.”

Junior Vince Schneider, was a key player in doubles for the Bears in the previous season, but was out immediately from the start this season due to injury.

With Schneider out, the Bears turned to red shirt freshman Will Little to step up, but he quickly found himself out of the loop when injury came his way.

With a roster of 11 players in the 2014-2015 season, the Bears were immediately taken back when the roster was cut to eight in the 2015-2016 season. It ended up becoming even smaller due to injury.

With such a small squad, Knoll and his team immediately had to find players and turned to the club team where they picked up junior Tyler Stayer.

With new players in the midst, the Bears struggled early on to capture the victory over top teams, but are slowly adjusting finding way and lineups to come on top.

“We’ve lost four of these matches against teams that are top 20,” Knoll said.

Although never lacking energy, the Bears had a chance to upset now No. 18 Tulsa, but fell short 4-3, after losing the doubles point right off the back.

“The goal was to come out and have positive energy throughout the match on every court regardless of how the scores were, and I think the team did a really good job of doing that. I’m really proud of the team,” said freshman Jimmy Bendeck.

Although taking the doubles point against No. 11 Texas Tech in conference play, they were unable to get the edge in singles. With junior Max Tchoutakian locked in a three-set battle to decide the outcome of the night, he was unable to come up clutch, giving the Bears their first conference loss, 4-3.

“The loss to Texas Tech was just terrible, and our other match losing in a tiebreak was pretty painful, but no one gave up and it was nice,” Lenz said.

Looking to turn things around, the Bears were able to regain momentum against No. 17 Texas, where, after a shaky start to doubles, were able to battle back and take the quick point.

“We need every point we can get, and we got that [doubles point]. It was an amazing comeback for Max and Tommy, who got down right off the back and played a poor first game. For them to come back and beat another ranked team is a great effort from them. I’m really proud of those guys,” Knoll said.

With Lenz not playing at his best this season, the Bears are relying heavily on the doubles point and clutch third sets to get the wins.

However, it is not a one-team show and the Bears will need to continue working together and improving as a team.

At No. 1 doubles, Tchoutakian and freshman Tommy Podvinski have found chemistry together but need to continue with the spark as they go into singles action.

In singles, the Bears lineup seems to be on track, but Knoll said the players need to improve on a pivotal third set rallies if they want to stand a chance against the best teams in the conference.

“We need every win we can get. The great thing is it builds a little momentum for us,” Knoll said. “Gives us some time off before we get back into conference. We have some really tough matches on the road against OU and at O-State, two great teams, but just a little belief that we can win these close matches.”