All season long, the N.C. Wesleyan men’s tennis team had slightly different goals than the rest of the USA South Conference.
They’ll have a chance to complete their first goal today in the USA South championship.
The Bishops stormed through the regular season undefeated to claim the regular-season title, and after a convincing 9-0 victory Saturday against No. 4 Piedmont in USA South Tournament semifinals, the Bishops have a chance at a title sweep.
“Every year, we want to win the conference,” No. 1 singles player Mikhail Konnov said. “We have a new team, ... and we’ve played really well against good teams.”
Top-seeded N.C. Wesleyan (11-7), which lost just four individual matches all season during conference play, wasn’t challenged much Saturday against Piedmont (11-7).
The Bishops cruised through doubles with the only hiccup coming early at No. 3.
Ben Tolhurst and Phillip Vylegzhanin pulled away from a 3-3 tie to win 8-5. Carrying the momentum of a doubles’ sweep, N.C. Wesleyan quickly won four singles’ matches in straight sets and Konnov held off Matt Metzger’s challenge to win in straight sets at No. 1 singles.
The lone difficulty came at No. 3 singles, where Peter Hviid lost the first set and fell behind in the second set. He rallied back, and as his teammates gathered near his court, Hviid earned a hard-fought tiebreak win.
“It’s really important to see that our team is playing tough matches,” Konnov said. “We can see players work for the team and represent the university. It gives you more power to do the same thing.”
The Bishops, who defeated Piedmont, 9-0, during the regular season, will play Methodist in the championship at 10 a.m. today.
“We all know that (today) things could be completely different,” first-year coach Andres Amores said. “Methodist has a strong team to play against us. If we stay together throughout the tough matches, support each other, yelling our names and keeping everybody up throughout singles and doubles, then we should be fine.”
N.C. Wesleyan defeated second-seeded Methodist, 5-4, earlier this season. It was the Bishops’ only conference match that wasn’t a shutout.
“Every match is important,” No. 2 singles player Elias Kerem said. “The first single is as important as the sixth single. Everyone is a team. It’s important to give it all for the team.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org