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Men’s tennis seeks to take it slow through tourney

“Survive and advance.”

That motto, coined by former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano during the Wolfpack’s miraculous championship run in 1983, is what Stanford men’s tennis head coach John Whitlinger is focusing on as the Cardinal prepare to embark on their NCAA Championship journey this weekend.

That’s because the No. 27 Cardinal (14-5, 5-2 Pac-12) know that they are capable of not only hanging around, but also going swing-for-swing with some of the tennis heavyweights in the country. When they see some of those teams in the upcoming tournament, it will be all about taking it one match at a time.

(TRI NGUYEN/TriNguyenPhotography.com)

The availability of sophomore Maciek Romanowicz (above), who played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles before going down with an injury, is a game-time decision for Saturday’s match against Tulsa. (TRI NGUYEN/TriNguyenPhotography.com)

“[Our key is to] just compete hard,” Whitlinger said. “We’ve played the best teams in the country. We’ve played UCLA at our place and when that got rained out, it was going to be really tight, one way or another. When we went down there, we got beat up a little bit but we’ve played the best teams in the country and the guys know what to expect.”

Although it defeated some of the better teams nationally in its strong run at the end of the regular season but lost to Oregon in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, all of those matches are now behind the Stanford team and its focus is just on the road ahead, starting with Conference USA champion No. 42 Tulsa (15-12) on Saturday in its first-round matchup.

“[Tulsa is] a very talented team too that we can’t overlook,” Whitlinger said. “We’ve got to be ready to play Saturday morning and that’s the biggest thing to worry about.”

How the Cardinal will fare in the match against Tulsa ⎯ and beyond, if they advance through the rest of the tournament ⎯ rests partially on the health of sophomore Maciek Romanowicz, who played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles for the Cardinal at the start of the season before suffering an injury that has kept him out of the lineup since the April 4 loss at USC.

Despite not having played in over a month, the return of the talented Romanowicz to the lineup would provide an immediate spark ⎯ although it would also throw a wrench into the doubles pairings that have been established since his injury. When Romanowicz was in the lineup, he was paired with junior John Morrissey at the No. 1 doubles slot. Since then, Morrissey has been paired with senior Jamin Ball at the No. 2 position.

Although there is no set timetable on Romanowicz’s return, Whitlinger says that it will be a “game-time decision” on Saturday morning when the sophomore travels to Waco, Texas, with the team for the first round of NCAAs.

“He’s done a lot of good things today in practice, things he hasn’t done in a while, and we’ve just got to see how he responds over the next few days once we get to Texas,” Whitlinger said. “He’s really eager to play and the nice thing about it is we’ve had success with him in the lineup and without him in the lineup…I’ve got a lot of guys ready to step in and play well if Maciek can’t go.”

And indeed, a deep Stanford roster that achieved success at the end of the season without the contributions of Romanowicz should be ready to be quite competitive, with or without him.

Morrissey has been a stalwart at the No. 1 singles position, owning an 11-7 record at the top of Stanford’s lineup. Sophomore Anthony Tsodikov has also been very strong at No. 5 singles, with a 10-3 record to his name in that slot. Finally, junior Robert Stineman ⎯ who slid into the No. 1 doubles slot with senior Daniel Ho in Romanowicz’s absence ⎯ has been a force from the No. 6 singles slot with an 8-3 record in that position.

After a tough stretch in the middle of the season, Ho rebounded nicely in his No. 2 singles role, while sophomores Trey Strobel and Nolan Paige have been effective in their mid-lineup roles as well.

That is encouraging for Stanford because singles is where it has shined throughout the season and will again be the deciding factor in whether it can make a deep tournament run or not. Because the team’s ability to start off each of its matches by securing the doubles point has been shaky all season, it has often had to rely on its singles performers to come from behind and claim the victory, and this paradigm has given the players experience playing from behind to secure the team win.

“There’s no question that getting that early point is really important in NCAA competition because it can be really problematic trying to win four singles points,” Whitlinger said. “But then again, my guys have been doing it all year long ⎯ we’ve lost 10 doubles points but only five matches. The nice part about it is that we know what it feels like to win the doubles point and lose and we know what it feels like to lose the doubles point and win.”

Although Tulsa doesn’t have as deep of a roster as the Cardinal, it offers stiff competition atop its lineup, with nationally ranked singles performers in No. 81 Japie De Klerk at the top post and No. 85 Clifford Marsland alongside him to pace its singles performance. Meanwhile, the Golden Hurricane’s top doubles pairing of Marsland and Dylan McCloskey is ranked No. 27 nationally, while the Cardinal do not have a ranked doubles team.

In order to advance past the first round and set up what will likely be a date with ninth-seeded Baylor, the host of the regional, one of the important things for the Cardinal will be to get off to a fast start using its talented depth, particularly in the matchups lower in the lineups in which Stanford will likely have a talent advantage.

Stanford will begin seeking the 16th NCAA team title in program history and will look to improve on its 103-19 postseason record when it travels to Waco this weekend for its first-round matchup against Tulsa, which is set to start at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Do-Hyoung Park

Do-Hyoung Park '16 is the head copy editor and a sports desk editor at The Daily. He has previously served as the Vol. 245 Managing Editor of Sports and primarily writes football, women's soccer and columns that he's pretty sure nobody reads except for him. Do-Hyoung is a junior originally from Seoul, South Korea and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota pursuing a major in chemical engineering. To contact him, please email him at dpark027 'at' stanford.edu.