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Lobos Push No. 8 A&M But Fall 4-1

by Frank Mercogliano

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The University of New Mexico refused to go quietly into the night.  The Lobos didn’t survive, but the served notice that they were in the NCAA Tournament for a reason, and the squad gave the No. 8 team in the nation all it could handle.  The Lobos picked up their first NCAA Tournament point since 1998 and stayed right with the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies before falling 4-1.  UNM ended its season at 8-10 overall, and the squad went 0-6 against nationally-ranked opponents.

The Lobos had their moments against Texas A&M, and weren’t all that far from a total shocker.  Well a shocker to the rest of the tennis world, but for UNM, which lost 4-3 to a pair of ranked opponents and 4-2 to three others with all five of those potentially wins for UNM, it would have been a little justification.

If Texas A&M (17-8) thought they were given an easy draw, UNM showed in doubles that was hardly the case.  New Mexico actually struck first as Stepan Holis and Alex Maggs took a 6-3 win at No. 3 doubles.  UNM needed a win at No. 1 or No. 2 for the doubles point, but A&M has two nationally-ranked tandems, and it did show, eventually.  The key moment came at No. 1, where UNM’s 79-th ranked tandem of Dominic West and Sergio Garcia were tied 4-4 and up 40-30 on Carlos Aguilar and Bjorn Thomson, who are ranked No. 8 nationally.  After a short rally, West hit a ball that looked in, and was played by A&M, but it was called long by the umpire.  Despite a protest from West and moreso head coach Ben Dunbar, A&M broke UNM at deuce, setting up an eventual 6-4 win.  That coupled with a 6-3 win at No. 2 gave the opening point to the Aggies.

In doubles, UNM took one set straight up with Rafael Abdulsalam winning 6-3 at No. 4 singles, and UNM dropped three opening sets as West, playing the nation’s No. 3 player in Hady Habib, fell 6-4, Holis lost to No. 30 Aguilar 6-1 and Sergio Molina lost 6-4 to Guido Marson.  The Lobos sent the other two matches to opening set tiebreakers.  Raul Dobai, facing the No. 5 player in the country in Valentin Vacherot, took a 4-2 lead at the break, expanded it quickly to 5-2, and then won on a passing shot for a 7-4 win.

That moved the drama to court five and Jake Trondson, who was facing No. 122 Pierce Rollins.  Rollins opened with the first four points., including mini breaks on the first and fourth.  Serving with a chance to go up 5-0, he tried to get Trondson cross court at the net, but Jake was able to return it away from Rollins to make it 4-1.  That opened a rally in which Trondson got an ace and two other points to tie it at 4-4.  It was 5-5 with Trondson on his final serve.  He forced Rollins to his right, and his return was set up perfectly for Trondson to lay it into the open court, but he ticked the net and it fell on the wrong side of the cord, and it was 6-5 A&M.  Trondson that staved off a 6-5 set point, but he couldn’t at 7-6.

West, who lost his opening set 6-4, then went down 6-0 in the second to make it 2-0 A&M before Abdulsalam got UNM on the board with a 6-3, 6-2 win, Abdulsalam’s second win over a ranked opponent this season.  Down 2-1, Holis was able to force a third set with a 6-2 win, and Dobai was forced into a third set after falling 6-4.  Trondson, game as he was, couldn’t match his first set, falling 7-6, 6-1, making it 3-1.

Again, if A&M thought UNM would just roll over, they were sorely mistaken.  A&M’s best chance at a fourth clinching point was sitting at No. 6 as Molina was down 4-1 and down two breaks, but he found something and got back-to-back breaks of his own, and it was suddenly 4-4.  Serving at 4-4 and deuce, the magic left as Molina’s reaction shot from the net went wide, and Marson was able to serve out the match.

UNM loses three off squad in super seniors West and Trondson along with senior Holis.  The Lobos do have extra depth in Alex Maggs, who played doubles, and Nicolas Prieto, who went 2-1 in singles this year in limited action, along with several talented incoming recruits.  The Lobos will be looking for a three-peat as conference champs.

NOTES:  UNM had suffered four straight NCAA shutouts before the 4-1 final … UNM’s last point was in a 4-1 loss in the 1998 tournament to Pepperdine … UNM had won its previous two matches that season in the tournament … Abdulsalam also had a win over the No. 54 player in Arizona’s Filip Malbasic … Dobai will enter the 2021-22 season on a seven-match winning streak … Maggs, who mostly played doubles in 2021, finished 6-4 in doubles … West ended his career with 59 singles wins and 58 doubles wins, just missing the singles wins chart but finishing tied for 27th in career doubles wins.


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