After a 2018-2019 season marred by inconsistent conference play and a failure to advance past the first round of the Big Ten tournament, the Badgers are off to another rocky start as conference play looms.
2019’s fall individual competition saw modest success in ITA regional tournaments from the likes of sophomore Lenard Soha, freshman Scott Sculley and sophomore Jared Pratt. Each of these three managed to snag victories in the first round of regional singles competition before ultimately being eliminated in the second round.
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Both Soha and Pratt fell to top 6 seeded opponents, with No. 5 Zeke Clark of Illinois and No. 6 Mattias Siimar capturing victories over the two, respectively. Soha and Pratt would also go on to advance to the third round of regionals as doubles partners, securing a bye and an impressive victory before falling to the No. 5 seeded pair of Lutschaunig and Seelig of The Ohio State University.
With a slew of young talents returning for the Badgers, they seemed primed to improve upon their 10-12 team record and hopefully make inroads into Big Ten competition. While the Badgers currently hold a winning record of 7-6 over non-conference opponents, the toughest part of their schedule remains to be encountered.
Of the Badgers seven wins on the season, five of those have been either shutout wins or wins in which the opposing team netted only one total match. Furthermore, none of these teams are within, or frankly near the nation’s top 25 teams. Like many other teams within top conferences, the Badgers began their season relatively unimpeded. In fact, the Badgers began spring team competition on a five game win streak and ultimately captured seven of their first eight games.
Yet, once they reached the meat of their schedule, the Badgers began to falter. Out of their last five team competitions, the Badgers netted only four total matches. This trend becomes even starker when examining their performance in the ITA national championship in the middle of February.
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Granted, the competition in the tournament was quite stiff, with their first opponent being the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes. This initial matchup with a conference opponent did not go favorably for the Badgers. The Buckeyes predictably swept the Badgers 0–4 as they entered the indoor national championships as the overall No. 1 seed.
Even as they entered the consolation round, the Badgers found themselves up No. 21 ranked Baylor. This match too went poorly for the Badgers and ended in a second straight 0–4 result. While both of these teams are undoubtedly talented and capable of strong competition on the national stage, the fact that the Badgers did not capture a singles or doubles match in the first round of the primary or consolation bracket does not bode well.
Finally, on the third day of the ITA indoor team national championships, the Badgers captured their first point. Yet, even with two match victories from the Chase Colton and Pratt as well as the Martim Vilela and Robert Krill doubles groupings, the Badgers still fell 1–4 to No. 23 South Carolina.
With a 0-3 record in the ITA national championship, the Badgers have now lost their last five team competitions, yielding their current 7-6 record. With Big Ten play beginning in earnest on March 8 against Minnesota, things aren’t going to get any easier any time soon for the Badgers.
Of their first eight conference opponents, six currently rank inside of the top 50 teams in the nation. Wisconsin is not amongst those 50 teams. These initial eight teams do not include their late-season team rematch against No. 3 Ohio State.
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The Badgers could manage to scrape out a respectable conference record if they repeat last season’s feats of defeating all those teams that were also outside of the nation’s top 50 teams last year. Namely, their victories against Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern ultimately propped up their conference record.
Yet, once they reached the Big Ten tournament and faced off against Minnesota, the Badgers quickly ran into competition that dominated them. Unless something changes dramatically during the regular season, the Badgers are heading for a repeat fate. This is a scrappy team that’s full of talent and heart. This has been extremely clear with how they have drawn close with some of the nation’s top teams.
Ultimately though, the Badgers will have to start to see a drastic increase in contributions from their young core if they are to advance deep into the Big Ten tournament and outperform their recent ITA national championship showing.