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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hawkeyes Down Broncos Saturday in Men's Tennis

I thought it was time to get to know my local Division I college programs a little bit better today, with the Western Michigan Broncos men's team taking on the Iowa Hawkeyes this afternoon at the West Hills Tennis Club (known to those of you who have been to the Nationals here as one of the rain sites). Because I travel so much and they travel so much, it isn't easy to find a weekend when we're both in Kalamazoo, but schedules aligned this weekend, and the weather cooperated, causing no travel problems for the teams (or me).

The Western women were also playing a tripleheader today, beginning at 9 am and ending who knows when tonight. Both men and women were ranked 65th coming into the weekend, with the women getting a big 4-3 win over Michigan State last weekend. The men were hoping to follow suit and take down a Big Ten opponent today, and in the 68th-ranked Hawkeyes, whom Western had defeated 4-3 in Iowa City last year, the stage was set for a close match.

It certainly started out that way, as at one point all three doubles contests were 6-6 and then 7-7. But Bronco freshman Casey Cullen and junior Kevin Hayward, who were 16-0 this season coming into their match at the No. 2 position, got the late break and held for a 9-7 win, a scenario that was duplicated shortly thereafter by WMU freshmen Michael Calderone and Kazuya Komada at No. 3. Western went on to sweep the doubles when Bryan Norville and Alex Birchmeier eased by Iowa's top team of Bart van Monsjou and J.P. Ritchie 9-8(5).

The optimism of the early lead evaporated quickly once the singles started however, with the Hawkeyes taking charge in every match. It was 2-1 Iowa after 93rd-ranked van Monsjou blasted past Hayward in a battle of left-handers at No. 1 and Tommy McGeorge disposed of Calderone at No. 5. Iowa soon collected point number three when Ritchie came back from a break down in the second set to defeat Birchmeier, so Western needed to win all three matches still on the court to pull out the victory.

The Broncos forced a third set in all three matches, but when Norville fell to Christian Bierich 6-2 in the third at No. 3, the Hawkeyes had their victory. Wins by Komada at No. 4 and Alejandro Staub at No. 6 made the 4-3 final look closer than it was.

The Bronco women, whom I had just a moment to peek in on at the other side of the building, won their first two encounters over University of Illinois-Chicago and Detroit. The third match, with Wisconsin-Green Bay, was just beginning when I left.