The Franciscan University men's tennis team traveled to Richmond, Indiana on Saturday, for the final match of their unofficial fall season. Despite an abbreviated lineup, the men lost to Indiana University East by a narrow 5-4 margin, in a positive showcase of things to come for the Barons in the spring.
After a short warmup period and extended lineup introductions, given the fact that the Franciscan women's tennis team had also made the journey to eastern Indiana, the men took the courts for doubles.
At No. 1 doubles, transfer sophomores Jake Haffner and Jonathan Walmach quickly assumed an 8-1 lead over their Indiana University East counterparts, gaining leverage at the net, and returning serve deep into the backcourt. The pair wavered briefly down the stretch, before regaining the upper hand at 6-3, subsequently closing out the match to provide Franciscan the 1-0 overall lead.
Freshman Luke Conrad paired with senior Conner Jooste at No. 3 doubles; what followed was an excellent display of baseline doubles and a willingness to finish points at the net, transforming a 5-4 lead into an 8-5 victory. Conrad especially impressed at the net, while Jooste's consistent first serve percentage kept the match in their favor.
One court over, sophomore Jack Galla got the nod next to senior John Gallagher at No. 2 doubles. After accruing a 7-5 lead late into the pro set, largely thanks to Galla's series of return of serve winners, Indiana University East worked their way back into the match. Serving at 7-7, Gallagher saved break point with a backhand passing shot up the line, and after holding serve, Indiana University East handed over the match 9-7, with two straight double faults in the ensuing game.
Up 3-0 after the conclusion of doubles play, the men regrouped with the women, before separating for singles play.
With his family in attendance, Gallagher provided the final match victory for the Barons. He found his opponent's backhand early and often, and demonstrated a willingness to rush the net, saving one break point at 3-1 when he found the forehand corner with a reaching volley. Four successive deuces ultimately went his way at 4-1; a 6-1 first set to translated easily into a second set of the same score.
With the Barons up 4-0, the tide turned palpably in favor of Indiana East University. Up 4-3 in the first set, Haffner couldn't close when it mattered, eventually surrendering a 6-4, 6-1 loss at No. 1 singles. One court over, Walmach faced a formidable serve from his No. 2 singles opponent. He found footing too late to launch a comeback, going down 6-3, 6-2.
Though he was up 4-1 in a first set tiebreak, Jooste would lose seven of eight points down the stretch to lose the first set of his No. 4 singles match. He won the second 6-2 behind abbreviated points and consistent singles play, but Jooste was unable to capitalize on the ensuing third set, 6-4
At No. 5 singles, Galla would watch his first set get away from him, 6-1, before taking the lead in the second set. His lead would slip down the stretch, though he would push his opponent to the limit with a blistering series of unreturnable forehand returns, before going down 7-5 in the second set.
With the match tied at 4-4, last on the court was freshman Luke Conrad. The freshman performed well with the weight of the match resting on his shoulders, running his opponent from sideline to sideline, and registering several low backhands on his opponent's net approaches. He was unable to lessen the second set deficit after losing the first set 7-5, and took the 6-3 set loss.
The Barons finish their unofficial fall season with a 3-2 overall record. Without another official match on their schedules, offseason training will commence for the remainder of the year, before resuming action in 2018, with a highly-anticipated match against Allegheny College on Friday, February 16 headlining what should be a record-breaking spring for the Barons.