Rafa Izquierdo Luque Returns vs. Texas

Sophomore Rafa Izquierdo Luque returns the ball against Texas on Sunday, March 1 at Cary Tennis Park. Izquierdo Luque and junior Collin Shick won their doubles match 6-4 and Izquierdo Luque lost his singles match 6-4, 6-0, but the Wolfpack ended up with a 4-3 team win.

When the NCAA men’s tennis season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it left NC State’s men’s tennis team wondering what could have become of a seemingly solid season.

The Wolfpack’s remaining schedule featured four ranked opponents and only two out of its twelve remaining regular season matches were against sub-.500 opponents. Despite this tough schedule, a strong NC State side was looking at a promising season ahead. Let’s have a look at what could have been for the Pack had the season not been canceled. 

First Key Match: Sunday, March 15 at No. 17 Wake Forest

After State disposed of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in what was its last match of the season, and probably would have beat Boston College in Raleigh, fatigue could have played a factor in a potentially extremely close match against Wake Forest. In addition to challenging top-ranked USC during the week, the Demon Deacons were facing a full weekend, taking on Clemson on Friday, March 13, and playing the first side of a doubleheader against Boston College before finishing the weekend against the Wolfpack. A gassed Wake Forest outfit could have faltered against a more well-rested NC State side which did not play a game during the week, as scheduling played a role in keeping the Wolfpack’s undefeated away record intact.

Second Key Match: Friday, March 20 at Virginia

The Wolfpack’s next match would have taken place in Charlottesville, Virginia as it would have taken on the Cavaliers. The Pack, having shot all of its bullets against the Demon Deacons, could have suffered its first road loss of the season, as the Cavaliers extended their win streak to eight games after a presumed win against Virginia Tech. The Pack would likely have put up a valiant fight, but Virginia had a great chance to even the head-to-head record between the two squads at one win apiece for the season. This would have come after the Wolfpack notched its first win in Charlottesville since 1993 earlier this season.

Third Key Match: Wednesday, March 25 at No. 23 South Carolina

After bouncing back in a road win against the Louisville Cardinals, the Pack would have faced its second opponent ranked in the top 25 prior to the season’s cancellation in No. 23 South Carolina. In this showdown, a solid South Carolina team playing against its third ranked opponent in a two-week span after facing No. 10 Tennessee and No. 14 Ole Miss, would have fallen short against an invigorated NC State squad.

Fourth Key Match: Friday, April 3 at No. 20 Miami / Sunday, April 5 at No. 15 Florida State

After a likely victory over the Gamecocks, NC State would have had a two-game homestand against Georgia Tech and Clemson, which the Pack would have surely breezed through with two wins. These presumed home victories would be contrasted by a difficult two-game road trip to the state of Florida, where the Pack were slated to take on No. 20 Miami and then No. 15 Florida State. Despite the Wolfpack’s talent, this stint of the schedule would be difficult for any squad, so it is likely that State would have split these two games, either halting the Hurricanes and falling short against Florida State or vice versa.

Fifth Key Match: Saturday, April 11 vs. Duke

State would have closed out its regular season schedule at home against the Duke Blue Devils. The Blue Devils would have certainly proved a formidable opponent, sporting a 13-2 record prior to the season’s cancellation. However, Duke was 1-2 against ranked opponents, its only victory coming against 19th-ranked Illinois. Although the Blue Devils would be no pushovers, the Wolfpack would have likely closed out its regular season with a win.

ACC Tournament

The ACC is a very deep conference when it comes to men’s tennis, possessing five teams in the top 25, but the Pack was certainly among the best. Prior to the season’s cancellation, No. 9 NC State was the second-highest ranked ACC team, behind only No. 2 UNC. That being said, the Tar Heels shut down the Wolfpack in their one previous match, a 4-0 Tar Heel victory at the Pack’s J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center on March 4. Even with that in mind, it is reasonable to foresee NC State progressing to the ACC championship match. 

Even though No. 15 Florida State posed another threat to the Pack’s conference championship bid, State did have a measurable edge against FSU in a common opponent, namely No. 4 Texas. The Wolfpack squeezed out a 4-3 victory against the Longhorns at Cary Tennis Park on March 1, whereas Florida State was shut out 4-0 in Austin, Texas on January 26. So the most likely ACC tournament result for the Pack, pending the bracket’s layout of course, would have  potentially been a loss in the championship game to UNC.

NCAA Team Tournament

Despite a deep conference tournament run, NC State’s mediocre record against ranked opponents (3-4 prior to the season’s cancellation and 6-6 when including this article’s projections for the rest of the regular season) would probably prevent the Pack from gaining a No. 2 seed, most likely having to settle for a No. 3 seed. Even so, the Wolfpack would have certainly made a considerable run in the NCAA Tournament, but without a full bracket, it is difficult to say how far they could have made it. Going off the information available, however, State would have most likely bowed out after a run to the quarter finals, perhaps falling to a Stanford or TCU team with a previous victory against the Pack this season.

NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships

In the singles tourney, the Wolfpack likely would have had a lone representative in senior Alexis Galarneau, ranked No. 20 among singles players by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). In what would have been his third consecutive appearance in the singles tournament, Galarneau’s experience would certainly have played into his favor, allowing him to progress past the first round and maybe further. 

As far as the doubles side goes, the Pack likely would have had a lone representative pair, sophomore Yannai Barkei and junior Tadas Babelis making a joint effort in this case. Despite lacking any prior experience in the NCAA Doubles Championship, the duo of Barkei/Babelis, ranked No. 21 by the ITA, could have possibly broken past the first round, but would have most likely not reached much further than that.