By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The regular season is over. The playoffs are here.
The Tennessee Tech tennis team marches into the OVC Tournament as the No. 2 seed, one of six teams making its way to Nashville for the chance to capture the crown and clinch the accompanying spot in the NCAA Tournament. As a top-two seed, the Golden Eagles secured a first-round bye and have advanced straight to the semifinals, set for Saturday, Apr. 21 at 8 a.m. CT from inside Centennial Sportsplex.
Tech (8-11, 5-1 OVC) will await the winner of Friday's first clash between No. 3 Jacksonville State and No. 6 Eastern Illinois. Belmont, the regular season champion and tourney's No. 1 seed, will take on the victor of No. 4 Eastern Kentucky and No. 5 Austin Peay in Friday's other first-round affair.
The Golden Eagles will also by vying at the chance for a piece of program history, searching for the school's first ever three-peat after Tech captured the tourney title in each of the last two seasons.
TTU heads into the postseason having won six of its final seven regular season clashes, but were upended in the finale at Belmont in a battle for the regular season title. Tech's 5-2 loss in Nashville snapped the program's 28 regular season OVC match win streak dating back to the start of the 2015 conference campaign.
TTU jumps into the OVC Tournament fresh off earning postseason hardware after a trio of Golden Eagles were honored during Thursday night's OVC tennis banquet. Senior Eduardo Mena headlined Tech's trio with a spot on the All-OVC first team, while junior Wenceslao Albin and sophomore Marc Mila punched their tickets on the All-OVC second team as Tech boasted at least three all-conference performers for the fourth consecutive season.
No. 68 Eduardo Mena, who has seized three-straight All-OVC first team accolades, wrapped up the regular season with a 12-5 singles record and a 5-1 conference mark, all out of the No. 1 spot in the Tech lineup. The Bultrago del Lozoya, Spain native ended the regular season winning nine of his last 10 singles tilts and concluded his OVC regular season career with a 26-2 record in conference action.
Wenceslao Albin, Tech's No. 2 for most of the spring, went 8-5 out of the position in the singles lineup, highlighted by a 5-1 OVC singles record. During doubles action, the 5-foot-7 junior transfer was a perfect 5-0 out of the No. 2 slot, going 7-3 overall in that tandem position.
Marc Mila went 4-2 during OVC singles action, all out of the No. 3 position, while also posting a 3-1 conference mark during doubles play out of the top spot in the Tech lineup.
Rounding out the rest of the Tech rotation, Jorge Alfonzo notched a 4-1 OVC record out of the No. 4 singles spot, while Gonzalo Garcia went 5-1 in OVC action primarily out of the No. 5 position and Riku Kubota went 4-1 in conference play, mostly out of the No. 6 spot.
In doubles play, Garcia was the only Golden Eagle to hit the double-digit plateau with a 10-5 overall record this spring.
No. 3 Jacksonville State (14-4, 4-2 OVC) last won the OVC Tournament in 2014. Tech handed the Gamecocks their first conference loss this season behind a 6-1 win down in Oxford, Ala. on Apr. 5.
Aljaz Kaplja, the OVC Freshman of the Year, was the only Gamecock to appear in the No. 1 position in JSU's singles lineup, posting an 8-8 record out of the top spot. Pablo Caffarena, an All-OVC second teamer went 9-5 in the No. 2 slot and Joaquin Vallejo led the team with a 12-4 record, all out of the No. 3 slot.
With Tech's win in early April, the Golden Eagles pushed their lead in the all-time series to 14-5 with the Gamecocks.
No. 6 Eastern Illinois (6-16, 1-5) has never won the OVC Tournament. Freddie O'Brien is the only Panther to possess a winning record this season, going 11-9, all out of the top spot in the rotation.
The Golden Eagles opened their OVC slate with a 7-0 victory over EIU in Charleston, Ill. on Mar. 15 to push Tech's all-time record against the Panthers to 18-1.
Photo by Tony Marable