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SIU men’s tennis wins ’emotional’ final home match in program history

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SIU men's tennis graduate assistant coach Jonny Rigby comforts junior Daniel Martinez after the Salukis beat Wichita State 4-1 on Saturday, April 1, 2017, in the last home match in Saluki men's tennis history at University Courts. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

SIU men's tennis graduate assistant coach Jonny Rigby comforts junior Daniel Martinez after the Salukis beat Wichita State 4-1 on Saturday, April 1, 2017, in the last home match in Saluki men's tennis history at University Courts. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

SIU men's tennis graduate assistant coach Jonny Rigby comforts junior Daniel Martinez after the Salukis beat Wichita State 4-1 on Saturday, April 1, 2017, in the last home match in Saluki men's tennis history at University Courts. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Sean Carley

As the members of the SIU men’s tennis team walked away from their final match as a program at University Courts, they did so as winners.

SIU defeated Wichita State on Saturday, 4-1, for the first time since 2009.

“It was an unbelievable match,” said graduate assistant coach Jonny Rigby, who serves as the primary coach of the men’s program. “To see them go out like that, that match just shows what we’re all about as a team.”

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The win is the Salukis’ (15-2) eighth win in a row, and it got them off to a 1-0 start in Missouri Valley Conference play.

But, more importantly, it was each player’s senior day as the men’s and women’s tennis programs will be discontinued in June as part of cuts being implemented as the result of a historic state budget impasse quickly approaching its second year.

In this final home match, Southern got started on a positive note, winning two out of three doubles matches to clinch the doubles point. Then the support came.

After their scrimmage, members of SIU’s football team came to cheer on the team. Members of women’s basketball, the swim teams and the athletic administration were also in the crowd showing their support.

SIU men's tennis graduate assistant Jonny Rigby comforts junior Alex Pozo Saturday, April 1, 2017, after the Salukis' beat Wichita State 4-1 in the last home match in Saluki men's tennis history at University Courts. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

With freshman Param Pun and junior Alex Pozo winning their singles matches, SIU found itself ahead with a 3-1 lead — one more match away from clinching the team win.

Junior Michal Kianicka appeared to be next in line to finish his match, which went down to the wire. Kianicka won the first set, but dropped the second to force a decisive third set.

At 5-4, Kianicka was joined by his teammates who had already finished their own matches to cheer him on from the next court over. Kianicka won the match when his opponent double faulted. He was immediately mobbed by his teammates.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Everything took over me. I was just screaming, I don’t even know what. It was just perfect.”

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Junior Michal Kianicka reacts to winning a point during the last home match in Saluki men’s tennis history Saturday, April 1, 2017, at University Courts. The Salukis defeated Wichita State 4-1. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

The Slovak Saluki said it wasn’t until the match was over that it sunk in that he had just played his last match at his home court.

“It’s really sad and emotional,” he said. “We feel like we deserve to play one more year, especially after a season like this and the last one. But it is what it is and I’m glad we finished like this.”

For others, Saturday was a culmination of years of teamwork coming together.

With Pun as the lone exception, each of the other six Salukis are either juniors or seniors.

“The stuff we’ve experienced is going to be a lifetime thing,” Pozo said. “Coming in as a freshman with five other guys is something I’m never going to forget, even the ones that aren’t here anymore. Finishing it out the way we did, I’m never going to forget it.”

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Members of the Saluki men’s tennis team congratulate junior Michal Kianicka after he clinched the last home match in Saluki men’s tennis history Saturday, April 1, 2017, at University Courts. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Even Rigby, who is serving his first year as a coach after he had one of the most outstanding careers in Saluki tennis history, expressed his love for his former teammates and admitted that he had trouble sleeping Friday night in anticipation of the match.

“I’ve been pretty stressed actually,” the English Saluki coach said with a laugh. “Some of the guys thought I was snapping at them in practice, probably because I was so stressed. But, I just really wanted the best for them and I knew this was going to be a big day.”

“All these guys, even though I’m a coach, they’re like brothers to me,” Rigby said. “I’m unbelievably proud of these guys.”

SIU men’s tennis has two more matches in the conference season, finishing on the road at Drake on April 8 and at Illinois State on April 15, before competing in the MVC Championship on April 28 through 30.

Sports editor Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SCarleyDE.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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