The No. 20 NC State men’s tennis team defeated No. 19 Middle Tennessee in an epic match that went down to the wire. Filled with intense action and thrilling competition from beginning to end, the Wolfpack beat the Raiders 4-3 on Saturday, May 7, earning a spot in the round of 16 for just the second time in program history.
In one of the most entertaining, competitive and thrilling matches of the season, in the second round of the NCAA Championships no less, the Wolfpack was able to claim victory in a match chock-full of intense points and heart-stopping action. After playing for nearly six hours, redshirt freshman Braden Shick clinched the grueling match with a score of 4-3 for NC State, finishing off perhaps the Pack's best match of the season.
“I mean, I'm just so pleased; number one for the guys, number two for our program, number three for the fans,” said head coach Kyle Spencer. “I just think it was one of those that will go down, for sure in our tennis history just from the fact that it was just such an epic match.”
Shick capped off the rigorous set of matches in the second round bout with his clutch three-set 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 win. Tied at 3-3, the Pack depended on Shick to deliver after the redshirt freshman won his first set but lost his second in tiebreak. Despite losing the second set when in clinch position, Shick stepped up when it counted and won his third set 6-3, securing the win for the Wolfpack.
“It's an amazing feeling,” said Shick. “I feel like I haven't really experienced a situation like that in junior tennis. I don't know if it's that much pressure, but it's definitely a different feeling playing for a team and the 11 guys behind you. But I tried to embrace it and it was amazing to come out with the win.”
All season long, NC State has relied on its strong set of younger players to come through in the big moments, and Shick did just that, not only in singles but in doubles as well. The match against Middle Tennessee was filled with action-packed moments and tightly contested matches from the very beginning, providing an energetic and competitive atmosphere all match long.
NC State was able to emerge from the doubles round with a 1-0 advantage, but not after two wins ending in nail-biting, back-and-forth tiebreakers. The Blue Raiders managed to capture the first court, but the Pack responded with its own win on court three. Graduate student Collin Shick and his brother Braden Shick won 7-6 (8-6), while senior Yannai Barkai and junior Robin Catry followed the brothers’ win with their own tiebreak victory, winning it 7-6 (9-7).
“I think it was the craziest double scoring I've ever been a part of,” said Braden Shick. “With crazy swings we were down on all three courts, down two match points on our court and we flipped that one and then down 6-2 in the other match and we came back. It was a roller coaster. It was an unbelievable atmosphere.”
After the doubles round set the tone for the highly competitive match, it was Middle Tennessee who would win two straight singles matches to lead 2-1 after a long break in scoring. Catry was defeated by his Blue Raider opponent while sophomore Luca Staeheli lost in straight sets on court three.
NC State would bounce back however, winning two matches of its own to take a 3-2 lead. No. 98-ranked senior Rafa Izquierdo Luque won in two sets, but had to win two tense tiebreakers to claim the Wolfpack’s first singles win of the day.
After Izquierdo Luque won 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-4), junior Martins Rocens earned the win on court four after a three-set battle. Rocens won 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 and once again put the Wolfpack in the lead.
With Braden Shick and freshman Damien Salvestre playing out their matches, NC State only needed one more singles win to advance. Both players won their first sets, but the Blue Raiders did not go down without a fight. Salvestre was defeated in his last two sets, but Braden Shick came up clutch when he won his third, ending the thrilling match at 4-3 in favor of NC State.
With this win in the second round, the Wolfpack advances to the round of sixteen where the squad is set to face the No. 1 TCU Horned Frogs. While TCU has been near the top of the national rankings all season, the momentum from this match is sure to make the next an entertaining one, no matter the outcome.
“Yeah, anything can happen,” said Braden Shick. “And I believe in our team against anyone in the country right now. I think we're all at great spots, so I'm excited for it.”
NC State will travel to Fort Worth, Texas to face the Horned Frogs on Saturday, May 14 in the Super Regional round of the NCAA Championships.