Kearney, Neb. – The 29th-ranked Washburn Ichabods won a close match at number three doubles and won three singles matches in straight sets to beat 26th-ranked Nebraska-Kearney, 5-3, in an NCAA Tournament match Tuesday evening at Harmon Park.
The Ichabods (13-5), the second seed in the Central Regional, advance to the NCAA “Sweet 16” in Surprise, Ariz., on May 9-11. Meanhwhile, the third-seeded Lopers go 15-6 in their final season.
“Every time they took the court this year they made me so proud and nothing was different today. I thought they competed like champions and gave it their all; they played with a lot of pride for their school, the community of Kearney and for all the previous teams we’ve had here,” said Loper head coach Jake Saulsbury.
Making its 17th NCAA appearance, UNK was trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in five years. This was a rubber match between the ‘Bods and Lopers; UNK won 7-2 in Grand Island during the regular season with WU claiming a 5-3 victory at the MIAA Tournament in Lincoln.
The nation’s fifth-ranked doubles team of Alejandro Plaza Valarezo and Blake Hunter won 8-2 at number one doubles to give Washburn a 1-0 lead. UNK had several early leads at number three doubles, including 5-4, but Paul Haase and Chase Brill rallied for an 8-6 win. That marked the first loss in 11 matches for senior Aaron Reekie (Houston) and junior Johnnie Carmichael (England) this spring.
A back and forth battle at number two eventually went to the Lopers by an 8-6 score. Senior Joey Richards (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and freshman Alberto Diaz (Spain) were nationally-ranked this spring and finished a solid 17-3.
In singles, 30th-ranked Valarezo won in straight sets at number one (6-1, 6-1) and then Hunter did the same at number three (6-1, 7-6) to give the ‘Bods a 4-1 lead.
A Loper comeback started with a Diaz holding off Brill at number six (6-2, 7-5) and freshman Dias Meiirbek (Kazakhstan) getting past Raul-Alin Dicu (7-5, 6-2) at number four. At this point in the dual, UNK was ahead 7-5, 3-0 at number two singles with Richards down a set (6-4) at number five. However, he was up early in the second set.
Haase battled back and it was six all in the second set at number two. German freshman Bradley Eidenmueller grabbed the lead from Richards in the second set and went on to win 6-4, 6-3. The number two match remained unfinished with junior Pepe Balado (Spain) ahead 7-5, 6-6.
“At this moment, I don’t think the realization has set in yet that it’s all over for the men’s program. That’s what makes today the toughest; we won’t get to see or experience the caliber of these young men on our campus or these courts again,” said Saulsbury. “They tried to leave a legacy this year, play for one another and come together in more ways than they ever have before. They chose a route that would make Loper Nation proud.”