May 02, 2014

My Championship Experience -- 2014 Men's Tennis Edition

My Championship Experience is a diary blog written by Summit League student-athletes detailing their experiences at each of the 19 Championships. Denver senior Alex Clinkenbeard penned the men's tennis edition. 
Thursday, April 24
This was an exciting year for the University of Denver athletic department as we transitioned from members of the WAC to The Summit League.  The tennis teams were given the opportunity to be the first DU programs to host a Summit League Championship and we were all excited to begin the postseason at home as the No. 1 seeds in both the men’s and women’s draws.  After a strong afternoon practice at the tournament site, we headed home, showered, and left for the pre-tournament awards banquet.  The dinner featured some excellent cheesecake that we enjoyed while striking it big on the league awards: we won the regular season conference title, placed six players on the All-Summit League team (including myself), freshman Diogo Rocha received Newcomer of the Year Award, and sophomore Henry Craig landed the Player of the Year.  While we were honored to receive the accolades, we knew we had to stay focused on performing well over the weekend to secure the automatic NCAA bid.
Friday, April 25
Fortunately, as the No. 1 seeds in the draw, we received a bye and didn’t have to play in the first day of the tournament.  We had another afternoon practice at the tournament site while our potential opponents were battling it out on the court behind us.  Although we had swept regular season conference play, you could already tell the level of energy in the other match was very high. Everyone was going to come out with intense focus, so we knew we had to get ourselves in the groove for tomorrow. It was pretty breezy out, which was a good indicator of how the rest of the weekend’s conditions were supposed to play out, and gave us some good practice dealing with the elements (playing in the wind isn’t particularly fun or easy).  Our practice ended well and we were all very anxious to start competing.  A large, high-spirited team dinner in the dining hall followed by watching some playoff hockey ended an early night.  I was pumped to compete in my last conference tournament as a Pioneer!

Saturday, April 26
The men’s side was fortunate to be given the later match times, so I got to sleep in before driving the team van over to Perkins for our traditional pre-match breakfast.  Finished my omelet and headed over to the site while listening to some warm up music to get me in the zone. IUPUI pulled it out against Western Illinois yesterday and would be our matchup, which gave us some confidence since we took care of business against them the week before.  Our team this year is very young with six freshman (of nine players on the roster) and with the pressure of being the top seed there was some nervousness, as is normal, and I felt some nerves too, since it was potentially my last home match.  These nerves quickly subsided though as the guys played a strong (and close) doubles point to steal a 1-0 lead.  I don’t play doubles so watching was very nerve-wracking, but finding that pivotal first point was huge in setting the tone for the rest of the day as we cruised to a 4-0 victory.  While we were excited to get through to the finals, we were on a mission to seal the deal.  It had been a long day of tennis so we went home, grabbed another team dinner, and called it a day.

Sunday, April 27
Championship Day!  Another glorious late match time allowed us to sleep in and get fully recovered from yesterday.  IPFW won a solid match the day before against SDSU and we knew they would be very excited to play. The weather was rainy and the final would be played indoors.  Excitingly, the women had also advanced to the finals, so we ate a quick team lunch and headed over to the site to watch. They didn’t waste any time and won a solid 4-0 match to secure an auto-bid!  This was great in setting the tone for our match. Like yesterday, there were some butterflies, but getting a win under our belt helped make us more confident.  Despite being held at an alternate site, the pep band and cheerleaders came out to kick off the match, which was absolutely awesome.  We had a nice crowd in attendance and they helped energize our way to winning another tight doubles point to take the 1-0 lead.  We came out strong in singles and grabbed five of six first sets.  Diogo was on an absolute mission at No. 2 singles and gave us a quick second point.  IPFW stepped up their game though, and made it very tight on several courts, including my own, as we split sets.  At No. 3 singles, Alex Gasson pulled out a tight tiebreaker to win the match and put the team up 3-0.  I didn’t know what the scores were on the other side of the facility, where No. 5 and 6 singles were playing, but you could tell they were close along with the match at No. 1.  I had the blessing of being able to clinch the team championship with a win in the third set to give us our second consecutive conference championship!  So excited that we had the opportunity to host and both programs were able to pull out the victories!  Up next, NCAA’s!!

-Alex Clinkenbeard

Don’t forget to check out the next edition of My Championship Experience as it follows the Softball Championship, May 8-10 and throughout the 2013-14 season for coverage at each of The Summit League Championships.

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