Wednesday at noon, the Holy Cross College men’s and women’s tennis teams both got the news they had been waiting for all off-season: both teams placed in the top 25 of their respective NAIA Tennis Coaches’ Preseason Polls.
The men’s team leaped from No. 24 all the way to No. 16 and is now the highest-ranked team in the Chicago Collegiate Athletic Conference.
The women’s team’s ranking is all the more impressive, jumping from unranked the season prior to No. 18, narrowly behind No. 17 Westcliff.
For head coach Eric Mahone, each team’s respective ranking is a validation of the program’s growth.
“Honestly, it was validation that coaches around the country are starting to notice us. In my opinion, we are better than that actually. But you are not going to just jump into the rankings when you are an unknown”.
By no means, though, is the program done growing. Mahone continues to have high expectations for his squads, which are jam-packed with talent.
“Our long-term goal is to win championships, and not just conference, but national.”
The men’s team is led by their two captains, senior Ryan Lee and junior Will Page. However, the captains are not the only two with talent on the team. Sophomore Perry Gregg earned a First-Team All-American nod last year as a freshman.
Gregg is one of many star underclassmen. Mahone noted as well that members of this year’s first-year class are more than capable of earning starting positions on the team.
“Luca McManus, he will start off playing number two for us. We were really hoping Hugh O’Sullivan would be in our top-three spot — he was actually the Irish national champion — but he is currently still injured, so we are waiting to see if he will be able to play. And our other two freshmen, Thomas [Friesen] and Polis [Koursaros], are both massively talented and will be competing for starting spots, as well”.
The team will be looking to build on last year’s success, where they went 13-8, which is the best record and win percentage (.619) in the young program’s history. Last season also saw the Saints post their best conference record at 5-1, with their only loss being to Cardinal Stritch.
The Saints then saw a successful postseason run, where they lost to Stritch again in the CCAC conference championship. This year, the team will look to take the next step and win the conference title. Do that, and they will also clinch an automatic berth to the NAIA national tournament.
The team will begin this semester when they play host to the University of Chicago on Saturday. The action is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. EST at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
While this year’s Holy Cross team is easily the most talented in the program’s history, there was a noticeable gap between Holy Cross and Cardinal Stritch last season. Holy Cross has closed the gap, but there is credit needed to beat the defending champs.
Overall Record: 11-4 (CCAC 5-1)
Conference Finish: Second Place
The women’s team, meanwhile, has already kicked off their spring schedule when they faced off against Bowling Green University. Though the team lost 0-7, Mahone was impressed by the result.
“If you dig into the scores, it was actually pretty amazing. We performed much better than expected; we had really close matches, 1-4.”
Freshman Victoria Savvidou nearly lost her first set to Bowling Greens’ No. 1 player before losing her second 0-6. Junior Kia Carvalho-Landell took her match to three sets, winning the second set 2-6. Junior Helga Lopez also took her match to three sets, ultimately coming up in a contested third.
Savvidou, Carvalho-Landell and Lopez will be Holy Cross’s top three players, with all three more than capable of being the team’s number one player, according to Mahone.
“They are actually all interchangeable; we essentially have three number-one players. All three girls are ranked in the top 31 in the country. [Savvidou] is ranked twelfth, [Carvalho-Landell] is 24, and [Lopez] is thirty-first. And [Carvalho-Landell] and [Lopez] are ranked number four in the country in doubles.”
The women continue their non-conference play when they take on Lawrence Technological University on Feb, 4 at the Eck Tennis Pavilion at 2 p.m. EST. In the two prior meetings, LTU got the better of the Saints, winning 0-9 back in 2017 and 2-4 in 2021.
Like the men’s team, Holy Cross has improved from last season and is a genuine competitor for a CCAC title. However, Holy Cross lost to Cardinal Stritch and Olivet last season. It might be hard for the Saints to beat both back to back, which they would likely need to do to win the title.
Overall Record: 10-7 (CCAC 4-2)
Conference Finish: Third Place