The Prairie Fire men’s tennis team began a string of five straight matches at home on the right foot, defeating Ripon College and the University of Dubuque at home on Saturday.
Knox took every doubles match against the Red Hawks of Ripon and added three singles victories to take the match 6-3. Junior Jonathan Ng, senior Maxwell Gatyas and sophomore Pragyaditya Mukerjee took their number 3, 4 and 5 singles matches, respectively. Mukerjee’s was the only close match of the bunch, winning 7-5, 6-4, as Gatyas and Ng outscored their opponents by a combined 24-4 over four sets.
Coming off three straight losses, including a 9-0 defeat at the hands of Coe College, Knox stumbled a bit coming out of the gate, said Head Coach Miriam Skrade, because “compared to Coe, we knew Ripon was a winnable match. Once we got over our fear of losing, we were able to close out the doubles wins. The doubles pairs are doing an excellent job of communicating and keeping one another upbeat and active at the net.”
Knox followed that victory with a nail-biter against the University of Dubuque. Only the duos of Ng and Gatyas and Mukerjee and sophomore Dustin Loch were able to pull out doubles wins this time, meaning the Prairie Fire needed to win three singles matches. After wins from junior Karl Ruzgas in the number two singles match 6-1, 6-1 and Gatyas again in the number four singles match 6-0, 6-1, the pressure for that final victory to take the match came on the shoulders of freshman Rohail Khan, who had yet to win a contest as a member of the team.
Khan was, however, able to manage a 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, 6-3 victory in the number six singles slot, earning him his first college win and copious praise from his coach.
“As evidenced by the scores, he played without fear, stayed focused and was determined to make the team proud. I’m continually amazed by his work ethic and how quickly he’s adapting to the game,” Skrade said. His win lifted the Prairie Fire over Dubuque 5-4, securing the victory.
For the part he played in four victories over the weekend, Gatyas was honored as MWC Men’s Tennis player of the week. Still, he deflected much of the praise to the rest of the team, saying,
“We look to our captains [junior] Walt Palmer and Johnny Ng for leadership, as they each put forth a lot of effort in preparation for the matches. We absolutely look to their experience for guidance during close and important matches. Rohail’s ability to step into an unfamiliar spot and win the singles match with so much pressure is certainly what stood out this weekend, though. I can’t say enough good things about his mentality and work ethic.”
The Prairie Fire will look to extend their winning streak in a home match against Lawrence University and Wartburg College on Saturday, starting at 8:00 a.m.