Saturday, July 13, 2024

MTSU men’s tennis wins fifth straight Conference USA Championship

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Featured photo by Brett Walker   

Story by Brett Walker    

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn- Middle Tennessee men’s tennis (20-9) defeated Liberty (17-8) by a score of 4-2 on Sunday to secure its fifth consecutive Conference USA championship.  

Sunday’s title match marks a half-decade of dominance for the Blue Raiders. MTSU is the first men’s tennis team in the history of Conference USA to win five straight titles.  

Defending a title in any sport is difficult. Two-peats are rare and three-peats even more so. Five-peats, however, are almost unheard of. With the conference set to expand in men’s tennis, it will get increasingly difficult to fend off hungry rivals.

“We’ve got a target on our back and now that target just got bigger,” MTSU head coach Jimmy Borendame said.  

Even with that target and the constant reshuffling of CUSA, MTSU men’s tennis has managed to keep a stranglehold on the conference. 

 The Blue Raiders captured their first CUSA title in 2019 and haven’t looked back since. 2024 has been an important year for the program as a whole. MTSU opened a long-awaited outdoor facility earlier this year and hosted the CUSA tournament. Protecting the new home court and securing the historic fifth consecutive title was a relief.  

“To me, it was just so important to christen the new outdoor center with a W,” Borendame said. “That’s just been going through my mind for a long time, and to finally come through with it is huge.” 

The championship match against No. 53 Liberty wasn’t easy for No. 34 MTSU, but the Blue Raiders held their ground. Jakub Kroslak/Shu Matsuoka won first on the day 6-1, while Marcel Kamrowski/Javier Cueto Ramos fell 6-3 to Thando Longwe-Smit/Rafael Marques Da Silva of Liberty. MTSU was able to clinch the doubles point with a 6-3 win from No. 26 Leo Raquin/Ondrej Horak.  

While doubles went smoothly for MTSU, singles was a much tougher battle. Liberty’s Chase Robinson swiftly defeated Matsuoka 6-1, 6-2 and the Blue Raiders found themselves tied with the Flames at 1-1. It was Raquin’s 6-3, 6-3 win over Da Silva that put MTSU back on track.  

Raquin, a transfer senior from Temple, has been a star for MTSU this season. Unbeknownst to him, Borendame and the rest of the coaching staff chart trends in the team’s wins and losses on the season. One such trend is this; when Raquin wins in singles, the Blue Raiders win 100 percent of the time. It’s a lot on his shoulders, but to get that win at the No. 1 spot is huge. Regardless of the situation, the pressure doesn’t seem to get to the senior from France.  

“I’m just giving my best, and I’m trying to help the team no matter what,” Raquin said. “If I play against a top ten team or a top 200 team, it’s the same. I come on the court with the same mindset.” 

Almost immediately following Raquin’s win, the Flames once again knotted up the score. Horak lost to Deji-Thomas Smith 6-3, 6-4 to bring the overall score to 2-2.  

While the score was tied, MTSU still had the advantage. Kamrowski and Kroslak were both closing in on victory, but it was Kamrowski who finished first, knocking off Luis Felipe Miguel 6-3, 6-4.  

Closing in on a fifth straight title with a lead of 3-2, MTSU counted on the freshman Kroslak to break Longwe-Smit’s serve and slam the door on the Flames. Up 40-0, Kroslak watched Longwe-Smit’s first serve sail out. On the second serve, Kroslak backhand blasted it for the return ace. The bystanding Blue Raiders stormed the court in a moment the young freshman will never forget.  

“I was dreaming yesterday about it, and I can’t even describe how I feel right now,” Kroslak said of his championship-clinching shot. “Yesterday it was a dream, and today my dream came true.” 

Sunday was special for MTSU men’s tennis. With over 25 alumni in attendance over the weekend, the program cemented itself in Conference USA history, and made many lasting memories. While the victory is sweet, the season isn’t over just yet for MTSU. 

On April 29th, the Blue Raiders will find out who they will face in the NCAA Regionals. With a conference championship under its belt, MTSU is a potential No. 2 seed heading into the tournament. The Blue Raiders are looking to make more history before the season comes to a close.  

“No team in the history of the program has ever made the Round of 16,” Borendame said. “So, we’ll take one round at a time and see if we can get there.” 

Brett Walker is a sportswriter for MTSU Sidelines. For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, and follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on X and Instagram at @mtsusidelines. Also, sign up for our weekly newsletter here.   

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