Currently enjoying a streak in which the Badgers have won four of their last five matches, the University of Wisconsin tennis team looks to ride that momentum heading into its last stretch of the regular season.
The season has already been a successful one for the Badgers, who reached their highest ranking in team history earlier in the year. Currently ranked 24th nationally, the team also features the No. 15 doubles team in the country in Mortiz Baumann and Marek Michalicka. To many followers of the UW tennis, the team has come a long way from a team that failed to rank among the top 75 teams in the country from 2002-06.
Although the team has cracked the top 35 the last two years under head coach Greg Van Emburgh, he feels the turnaround is due to the recruits that chose his program.
“You’re only as good as your players,” Van Emburgh said. “You get players that can fit into your program and your mold and your philosophy.”
According to Van Emburgh, recruiting players wasn’t the only part of the rebuilding process.
“I really felt like we had to get the right players in here,” Van Emburgh said. “As good as the players are, that’s when you’re going to get results, that’s when you’re going to have success. We did have to change the culture.”
Baumann reaches new heights
Junior Mortiz Baumann, who was among Van Emburgh’s first recruiting class, has played a huge role in helping the team find success. In addition to defeating the then-top doubles team in Wake Forest, he has not lost a singles match the entire season. Under the leadership of Baumann, the Badgers have re-established themselves as a premier team in the Big Ten.
“He’s just really touching the surface of his ability — he’s become just an unbelievable team player, leader, ambassador for our program,” Van Emburgh said. “He’s one of those players that makes programs.”
Baumann, a native of Germany, could be the team’s first All-American at the end of the season. According to Van Emburgh, Baumann has embraced the leadership role that came with the success.
“The guys really look up to him, respect him,” Van Emburgh said. “He’s the type of player where he can take it to the next level.”
Badgers reverse roles
Another byproduct of the recent success is how opponents view the Badgers. As one of the top teams in the Big Ten, Van Emburgh knows his team is going to get the best effort out of each opponent.
“Speaking of the hunted, that’s kind of how we feel lately,” Van Emburgh said. “Whenever you’re playing on the road, you’re at risk because you’re being hunted.”
The next two opponents for the Badgers — Iowa and Minnesota — are ranked 64th and 33rd in the nation, respectively. If the trend of close matches continues this season, the Badgers could be in for a battle.
“There’s been so many 4-3 matches throughout the country,” Van Emburgh said. “On any given day, if someone is a little sick, a little beat up or not on top of their game, you can take a 4-3 loss.”
The Badgers will be hosting their next two matches at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium. Coming off a road stretch in which the team split a pair of tough matches, hosting these next two matches could give them an advantage.
“We feel good about playing at home,” Van Emburgh said. “We’ve only lost once at home this year.”
In that loss, the Badgers suffered a 3-4 defeat to Louisville in early February. Since then, the team has recorded five consecutive wins at home, including wins over No. 22 Notre Dame and No. 28 Wake Forest. According to Van Emburgh, if the Badgers want to extend the home winning streak to seven matches, they need to come prepared.
“We just got to continue to be ready and make sure our guys are properly prepared and know what to expect,” Van Emburgh said. “We got to continue to take it one match at a time and not underestimate anybody and take care of business on the court.”