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Lobos Barely Edged Out By Nevada for Title

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M — It was a battle for the ages, but New Mexico’s five-freshman lineup came up just a smidge short as Nevada was able to hang on for dear life, nearly losing a 3-1 lead and holding on to win the Mountain West Tournament 4-3 over New Mexico, earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

New Mexico’s season ended at 11-13 while Nevada improved to 19-7.

The Lobos nearly pulled off a second straight stunning comeback. The squad was down 3-1 with just a doubles point to their credit.  Down in the other three matches, UNM made its move.  Aram Noroozian was first to get UNM back in it, coming back from down 4-2 in the third set to even things up and roll through his tiebreaker 7-1 over Delmas N’Tcha to make it 3-2.

Georgio Samaha was down 4-5 in his third set, but he held serve, was able to get a break and then at deuce he finished off Loris Zisswiller 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, and suddenly it was 3-3, and again, all eyes went to No. 4 singles as Jan Pucalka was down 4-2 in his third set as well as 5-3.  He and Satchell Benn split the opening two sets with Pucalka winning the first in a tiebreaker 7-4 and Benn winning the second 7-3.  After holding for 5-4, Pucalka evened it up with a break of serve to make it 5-5, but Benn broke back, and after Pucalka took the opening point down 6-5, Benn was able to get the final four points to give Nevada the narrow 4-3 win.

For UNM, while the season is over, the championship lineup showcased exactly what type of team Chris Russell and Sonam Phuntsok put together for 2021-22 as five of the six singles slots were manned by freshmen, one day after a four-freshmen lineup took all four singles wins in a 4-3 win over Utah State.  While Arda Azkara played No. 1 and won Co-MW Freshman of the Year honors, fellow freshman Aram Noroozian finished the year with four straight singles wins, and Georgio Samaha of Albuquerque led the team in singles wins with 18, going 18-8 for the year.  Jan Pucalka went 11-6 in the spring and all four of those freshmen won Mountain West Freshman of the Week honors.

UNM only loses the serves of Nicolas Prieto, a senior who played No. 1 doubles with Azkara, although he does have a COVID year available.

Despite the loss in the championship match, UNM men’s tennis is loaded with underclassmen and should only have one senior in Alex Maggs in 2022-23, meaning UNM just might be the team to beat in the league once again.