The 2017-18 season produced the most successful campaign in the history of UChicago men's tennis. The first University Athletic Association (UAA) team championship in program history was claimed by the Maroons as they knocked off national-power Emory University by a 7-2 margin in the final. Three weeks later, they reached the NCAA semifinals for the third time in four years.
Now as the calendar flips to 2018-19, UChicago is tasked with replacing a supremely talented set of graduates which included All-Americans Nicolas Chua and David Liu. The group of five helped propel the Maroons to their greatest successes. Now Head Coach Jay Tee is concentrating on maintaining that momentum while forging the next chapter with a new-look team.
"We're not going to be able to replace last year's senior class and their achievements over the last four years; if we try, we're just going to make ourselves miserable by measuring ourselves against someone else," Tee said.
Kerrigan (18-10 singles) played at No. 1 singles at the end of the year and earned All-American status. He will be joined by lineup regulars Yuan (27-7), senior Charlie Pei (17-5) and sophomore Alejandro Rodriguez (12-9).
Now entering his seventh year at UChicago, Tee is most intrigued to see who will step up to lead the team in results and by example.
"We lost a lot of leadership and a lot of wins, so there is an opportunity for some guys to step up for their team in a variety of ways," he said. "We definitely need some guys to raise their games and step up to lead their teammates as well. As far as I'm concerned, this year is a blank slate, and everyone has a chance to be better and to do things even better."
Playing the top teams in the nation deep into the spring for the last four years has proven to be critical to UChicago's development. The Maroons have won an average of 18 matches per season in that period with a consistent national ranking in the top 10.
"Even more important than the experience we gained playing in those big matches is what we learned about what it takes to compete at the highest level nationally," Tee said.
"Towards the end of last season, I think we finally understood what it means to compete on a daily basis – not just on big points or in big matches – and we saw our results improve dramatically. If we're going to have a successful season, it will be because we compete as a team, not just because we have a talented roster."
"There's no question that we counted on Marjorie and Claire for two to three team points every match and they delivered in a big way," Tee said.
"Claire is a supremely talented player who is one of the cleanest ball strikers in the country while Marjorie is perhaps the best pure competitor that I've ever coached. As good as they were, I believe that both can improve even more and they have a great group of teammates around them who are equally as important to our success."
The 2017-18 Maroons were young across the board and gained plenty of valuable experience across the starting lineup every time out. Tee believes that the team learned two important lessons along the way.
"The first is that we have the ability to compete with anyone in the country if we show up ready to compete and believe in ourselves and our teammates," said the veteran head coach. "The second is that team unity and culture is more important than talent or coaching.
"Last year's team improved so much throughout the season and learned that toughness and grit go a long way when you're playing against the best teams in the country. That came through in our UAA semifinal win versus Carnegie Mellon after losing to them 5-0 a few weeks earlier. We didn't alter the game plan much, but the women came out ready to compete at every singles spot and that was the difference in the result."