Head coach Greg Van Emburgh wants to make one thing perfectly clear about the University of Wisconsin men’s tennis team as it prepares for the upcoming NCAA Tournament: After two years of falling short of the Sweet 16, the Badgers are ready to reach that next level.
“It’s up to us. We have our own destiny in our hands,” Van Emburgh said. “We’ve got a good enough team to go out there and get the results we’re looking for.”
The Badgers are making their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament — a first in school history. As they head to Champaign, Ill., for Friday’s opening-round match, the goal continues to remain the same. At the start of the season, Van Emburgh put one message up on the dry erase board: “Sweet 16.” Months later, the Badgers are starting to believe they are ready to finally take that next step.
To get there, though, they’ll have to first get by a Louisville team that has had Wisconsin’s number as of late.
“We’ve really established an intense rivalry with them,” Van Emburgh said. Unfortunately, while the matches against Louisville over the past three years have all been close, Wisconsin has yet to beat the Cardinals, most recently falling short at home earlier this season 4-3.
Still, Van Emburgh is excited about what this matchup means for the team.
“I think the guys are excited about the opportunity we got in the draw,” Van Emburgh said. “It’s a good first round for us.”
Of course, there’s more at stake than just advancing to the second round.
“We’re looking for the opportunity to maybe seek a little revenge on them,” Van Emburgh added.
If the Badgers are to advance to the second round, they will face the winner of the Illinois-Western Michigan match. If they face Illinois, it will be their second time on the road against the Illini this year. The Badgers opened Big Ten play with a 4-3 loss to the then-No. 7 Illini.
In spite of that, the Badgers remain optimistic, largely in part to landing a more favorable draw this year. Unlike the past two seasons, UW will not have to face a top-seeded team in order to advance to the Sweet 16.
“This is the best opportunity we’ve had in my three years of being in the NCAAs,” Van Emburgh said. “I think we’re ready.”
While much of Wisconsin’s success will hinge on junior Moritz Baumann and sophomore Marek Michalicka, they will need strong performances all around.
“This past week in practice, I felt like guys are still improving,” Van Emburgh said. “They’re still hungry. We’re peaking at the right time of the year to really put our best tennis out on the court.”
Van Emburgh doesn’t see this program as one that will fade to the backdrop anytime soon.
“The guys are realizing what we can accomplish here,” Van Emburgh said. “I think the best years are yet to come.”