Springtime on campus is a funny time. Students and faculty alike enjoy a rare moment of presence in their lives that are so routinely forward-thinking. Late April, when the snow has not yet fully melted and the trees have not yet fully bloomed, is the perfect time for savoring the present and reflecting on the moments that got us here.
For the Utah men’s tennis team, the 2015-2016 season yielded many moments of success, failure, frustration and triumph. Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable:
At 17-9, Utah boasted its best regular season record in nearly 30 years this season. A lot of that came from the momentum that snowballed through January into mid-February, an eleven-game win streak to open the regular season.
It all started in Honolulu, Hawaii, as the Utes pieced together a victory over the San Francisco Dons, 5-2. As the match hung in the balance, the dynamic pairing of Santiago Sierra and Johan Jonhagen cranked out a victory to grab a 3-1 lead.
As the shorthanded Utes clung to their lead at the neutral site, Macedonian import David Micevski, having been with his new team for under two weeks, clinched the match.
Utah continued to roll through Hawaii and a long home-stand, notching victories week after week. But on an unusually warm Saturday afternoon, it all came to a screeching halt as Utah fell to its bitter rivals in the BYU Cougars. BYU handed Utah its first loss in over a month in a half, 5-2 in the Deseret First Duel.
“I’m very proud with the way we fought,” said Utah head coach Roeland Brateanu after the Utes’ loss to the Cougars. “This is a great lesson for our team, and we’ll grow from this experience.”
Grow they did. Where some teams may have folded following an emotional loss like this one, the Utes quickly righted the ship. Utah hit the road for a five-match stint in Albuquerque and Denver and returned home 5-2, including back-to-back 7-0 shellackings of DePaul and New Mexico State.
Cowley’s last home match
Matt Cowley has been a staple of Utah Men’s Tennis since arriving from nearby Woods Cross High School in 2010, and his family has roots in Utah tennis several generations deep. So when the Utes hosted No. 4-ranked UCLA, family, friends, teammates and fans cheered on Cowley from the concourse of the Eccles Tennis Center.
Cowley squared off against the ninth-ranked singles-player in the nation, McKenzie McDonald, for what would be his final match on his homecourt. Through two sets, Cowley led McDonald 6-3, 5-5 before the match was called in favor of the Bruins. While the team result wasn’t what the Utes had hoped for, Cowley cobbled together a performance to remember, displaying his notorious volley with one of the ten best competitors in the country.
“I’m just so grateful and honored to have [had] this opportunity to represent Utah,” Cowley said following the match. “My roots are here in Salt Lake at this university and to have almost 30 friends and family watch me have arguably the best match of my career, it’s amazing.”
Little’s Tournament Run
Fresh off the boat from London, Dan Little joined the Utes in a whirlwind as the fall schedule began in mid-September last year. Touting an impressive high school résumé, including one national championship and two finals runner-up finishes in Great Britain, and even ranking in the top 200 on the ITF Junior World Rankings, it was time to see what Little could do in his first season with the Utes.
After an impressive run through the early part of the fall schedule, Utah traveled to Albequerque, N.M., for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regionals. As the Englishman reached the semifinals in late October, he defeated 12th-seeded Yannick James for a shot at his second tournament victory already with his new team after capturing a title in the ISU Invitational. After a gutsy effort, Little was unable to secure another title for himself and his team, falling to Diogo Rocha of Denver 6-0, 5-7, 6-4. Although the new Ute came home with a loss before the spring schedule began, it was clear to teammates and fans that Little was for real.
“Dan has a bright future ahead,” Cowley said. “Convincing Dan that he is right there, [with] his game he can play with anyone. Double’s specialist, I keep telling him that he is a double’s specialist, and if he is convinced that he is one of the best doubles players … The sky’s the limit.”
Unfortunately, things did not go quite as expected in the Pac-12 Championships. The Utes lost in the first round of the tournament to Washington, 4-3. The Utes failed to capture the doubles point, and Cowley and Little’s match ended after the other two doubles matches had finished in favor of the Huskies. Both Cowley and Little went on to lose in their singles matches as well. It came down to the very last match with the score tied 3-3, but Washington emerged victorious.