JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – With a fourth-consecutive SoCon title victory just over a week ago, ETSU men’s tennis was a lock for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
While there was little surprise in that regard to tonight’s festivities, there was anticipation to find out the Bucs’ first round opponent and where they would meet.
Head coach Martin Stiegwardt and his squad didn’t have to wait long to learn that they will face Northwestern in the upcoming NCAA Regional round in Lexington, Kentucky.
“It’s a very good draw for us,” Stiegwardt said. “We’re finally healthy, so it should be a good match.”
“I don’t really know much about Northwestern, but I guess that’s a good thing,” senior Yusuf Khamis said. “We didn’t get like a top seed.”
The Wildcats still have an impressive resume – a 19-10 finish to the season and B1G Tournament runners-up to Ohio State.
“We’ve played a few opponents in common – they’ve played a lot of teams that I know,” Stiegwardt said. “I have an idea of their level … but I really don’t know much. Now it’s time to do some scouting and get to work.”
Stiegwardt says the strength of his team this year has come from its depth, as injuries forced some of the younger guys to earn valuable playing time. However, in tough times, it’s the senior class that has kept the Bucs on track.
“My top guys have just been really, really solid,” Stiegwardt said. “Most of my top guys are upperclassmen, so that always helps in terms of a tough match.”
Still, this senior class, for all its accolades, has not yet won an NCAA Tournament match. The Bucs haven’t secured a Regional round victory since a 4-2 win over Alabama in 2010.
It’s why a win over the Wildcats this weekend would be a crowning achievement for the program.
“Even like the guys before me that were here that graduated said they haven’t done it either,” Khamis said. “So, it would be great for me to do it before I leave, you know, I’m a senior as you know. It would be great – it would be great to do it.”
“It’s taken us a while to assemble this team so deep, so it would definitely be a special moment,” Stiegwardt said.
ETSU and Northwestern will play at either 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. on Friday, May 6 at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center in Lexington Kentucky. The winner of that match will play the winner of No. 8 Kentucky and DePaul on Saturday at 1 p.m.
You can view the full NCAA men’s tennis bracket here.