Men’s tennis stuck in conference slump

By Gus Bode

Salukis still looking for 1st MVC win

This is not how Missy Jeffrey and her SIU men’s tennis team wanted to start the Missouri Valley Conference season – 0-3 with an overall record two games below .500.

But hope springs eternal at the SIU Arena tennis courts.

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Weekends occupied by two matches have once again become the norm as the Salukis have become firmly mixed up in conference play. Two more itineraries of that sort are in the Salukis’ way before the MVC Team Championships April 29.

A home stand against Drake and Creighton this weekend starts off the stretch as SIU will try to take the sting out of this past weekend’s road losses at Southwest Missouri State and Wichita State.

The Salukis (6-8, 0-3) came into those matches off an impressive 6-1 victory over Murray State March 31. Nothing was assured to the Salukis, though, as they headed through Springfield, Mo., and Wichita, Kan. – the Shockers had a winning record and were 4-2 at home and both teams had players who won titles at January’s MVC Individual Championships.

On top of that, the Salukis’ depth took a hit with senior Lukasz Soswa sitting out due to injury.

“We played arguably two of the top teams in our conference,” Jeffrey said. “Having Lukasz out makes things tougher, but you still have to find a way to win.”

Saturday’s match against SMS produced some of the most dramatic moments of the season thus far for SIU.

The doubles point was given to SMS, which won all three sets by no more than three points. In the singles matches, SIU made a comeback fueled by its top three players:senior Alexandru Nomicos, sophomore Rodrigo Lama and recent transfer Sergio Sanchez. All three took their matches and put the Salukis in a position to win as SMS won two matches of its own at the No. 5 and No. 6 positions.

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It came down to the match in the fourth position, SIU’s Tomas Gonzalez versus John Kellert, a transfer to SMS who previously was the No. 1 player at Eastern Kentucky.

“Last year, Tomas was playing at five or sixth against Eastern Kentucky,” Jeffrey said. “So he’s gone from playing a five or a six to playing a No. 1-level guy. That shows how much he’s improved and how much he’s capable of.”

After taking the first set, Gonzalez fell in the next two sets and eventually lost the third set. The Salukis had to go on their way with a loss and a 6-7 record.

“It would have been one of the greatest wins that we’ve had in recent time,” Jeffrey said. “We know that we played well enough to beat them, but it didn’t happen.”

Impending rains in Kansas kept the SIU/Wichita State match-up to a singles only affair. There wasn’t much for the Salukis to like about the 4-2 score that ended their latest road trip – except for some self-assurance.

“To be able to play [SMS and WSU] that close is a confidence booster,” Jeffrey said. “We’ve never played those schools that close, but we’ve got to start pulling out those wins in those close matches.”

The play of Lama, who was one of the two SIU winners Sunday and the only player to win against both SMS and Wichita State, was one thing Jeffrey did willingly take away from the latest matches.

“He has had a really impressive season,” Jeffrey said. “He’s really leading the team.”

Lama’s hot play will be one of the things to watch for at the upcoming home matches whose outcomes could give the final sign as to where men’s tennis will end up at this season’s conclusion.

“You want to keep learning and improving, but now is the time for results,” Jeffrey said. “I feel pressure 100 percent of the time because I want us to do the best that we can. Sometimes you just have to look at the progress made throughout the season, but these are conference matches so this is where we have to make it happen.”

Reporter Kyle Means can be reached at [email protected]

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