The Nebraska men’s tennis team competed in the Bobby Bayliss Invitational over the weekend — its first tournament of the 2019-20 season. After a transformative offseason which saw all but three players leave the program, six new players made their competitive debut in the tournament.
The freshmen newcomers include 5-star recruit Andre Saleh, who ranked 52nd in his recruiting class as one of the highest-ranked freshmen in Nebraska tennis history. Chester Wickwire, who also made his debut over the weekend, ranked fourth in the state of Ohio before coming to Nebraska. Freshmen Shunya Maruyama and Albert Sprlak Puk, hailing from Japan and Czechia, respectively, both enjoyed success in ITF circuits before committing to Nebraska.
Along with the freshmen, Nebraska saw the debut of two sophomore transfers over the weekend. Henry Patrick Cacciatore, who played for South Carolina last season and ranked 47th in the nation in his class, competed in singles and doubles play. Additionally, Kansas native Bradley Mittleman joined the Nebraska program after a season at Old Dominion.
The three returning players include Nebraska native Chris Dean — the only senior on the team — and sophomores Will Gleason and Victor Moreno Lozano. Gleason and Moreno Lozano look to build off of impressive freshman tenures, where Gleason recorded the best singles record by a Husker since 2015, and where Moreno Lozano reached the round of 32 in the ITA Fall Central Regional tournament.
The invitational did not follow a standard tournament structure; instead, it had four rounds of singles play and three rounds of doubles spread out over three days. At the end, an outstanding player was named, but there was no tournament winner.
On Friday, in singles play, the Huskers won seven out of their nine matches. Dean set the tone early, beating Marquette freshman Shaddy Khalafallah 6-2, 6-0. At the same time, Wickwire beat Marquette junior Julian Robinson 6-2, 6-0. Mittleman played out a three-set match against Louisville freshman James Bell. After winning the first set 7-5, Bell forced a third-set tiebreaker, winning 6-3. Mittleman went on to win the tiebreaker. Saleh recorded an impressive win against Notre Dame senior Jonathan Small, winning 6-2, 6-4.
Nebraska played eight doubles matches on Friday, winning half of them. The standout match was a 7-5 victory from Saleh and Gleason over Western Michigan sophomore Jack Randall and MAC Newcomer of the Year Peter Kuszynski. The Randall/Kuszynski duo won MAC Doubles Team of the Week twice last season.
Saturday had two rounds of singles play. Nebraska competed in 15 matches total, winning eight of them. One of the best matches of the night came when Dean faced Louisville freshman Marcus Sulen, who came to Louisville as the top-ranked junior in Norway. Dean fell in a hard-fought 7-6(4) first match but came back to win 6-3 in the second set and won the tiebreaker as well. Wickwire played out the second-longest match of the tournament against Cleveland State freshman Raul Teichmann. Wickwire lost the first set 6-3 before outlasting Teichmann in the second set 7-6(4). Then, in the third-set tiebreaker, Wickwire beat Teichmann 12-10.
In doubles play on Sunday, four duos competed in four matches with Nebraska winning three of them. The duo of Cacciatore and Sprlak Puk beat the Wisconsin team of former No. 39 recruit in the nation Daniel Nuzhny and Austrian tennis phenomenon Gabriel Huber. The game went to an extended tiebreaker, where Cacciatore and Sprlak Puk were able to win 7-6(3).
Sunday’s singles play saw a continuation of form for the Huskers, winning four out of eight matches. Cacciatore played an extended match against Western Michigan freshman Rodrigo Crespo, who was recruited as the top-ranked U-18 player in Costa Rica. After losing 6-2 in the first set, Cacciatore came back to win 6-3. Then, in the tiebreaker, Crespo and Cacciatore played to 10 points, with Cacciatore coming out on top.
Gleason played against freshman Scott Sculley, who ranked fourth in South Carolina before committing to Wisconsin. After winning 6-4, Gleason nearly finished the match in two sets but let the second set slip, losing 6-4. This led to a nine-point tiebreaker, and Gleason was able to win.
All in all, Nebraska played in 32 singles matches, winning sixteen. Also, in doubles, Nebraska played 12 matches, winning seven. This means Nebraska won 52% of their matches. By comparison, Louisville, which had the 23rd-best recruiting class in the nation per tennisrecruiting.net (the highest in the competition), finished winning 48% of its matches.
The next tournament before the start of inter-collegiate play is the ITA Men’s All-American Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma in January. The vaunted 2019 Husker recruiting class will hope to build off of a strong showing in Notre Dame.