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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Saints win first ever CCAC title, qualify for national tournament

Spring 2023 has been the best season to date for Holy Cross men’s tennis, a relatively young program. This season, the team won its first-ever Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) tournament title. In doing so, they also earned their first bid to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) tournament.

The Saints finished regular season and conference tournament play with a 12-3 overall record. After breaking into the national Top 25 for the first time last season, the team appeared in the rankings every week of this season. For head coach Eric Mahone, this season has been about the changing expectations that come with continued success.

“The takeaway from this season is learning to play with that target on our backs, which has been a whole new thing for our program,” Mahone said before CCAC tournament play. “The pressure is different, the expectations are different, so this year has been the year to learn how to deal with that.”

For perhaps the only time during the team’s season, the Saints were the hunters rather than the hunted entering the CCAC tournament. Holy Cross entered the tournament as the No. 2 overall seed, and dispatched No. 3 Olivet Nazarene in the semifinals on April 27 by a 4-0 score. That set up a date with No. 1 seeded Cardinal Stritch for the championship on April 29. 

Cardinal Stritch had already defeated the Saints 4-0 just one week prior. In the rematch, Holy Cross did not pick up a doubles victory, but they won four singles matches to take home their first conference title. Junior Will Page, freshman Polis Koursaros, and sophomores Ciaran McCarthy and Perry Gregg all won their singles matches in the overall victory.

“You can actually go from number one to number twelve on our team and every one of those guys has been a starter at some point in their career,” said Mahone. “The young guys bring a lot of energy, a lot of raw talent, to our team, no doubt. I mean, they’re more talented every year, every year we get more talented players, and this year’s group of freshmen is no exception.”

In addition to winning the league title, freshman Luca McManus earned all-conference honors in singles after finishing the season with a 5-1 record in No. 2 singles matches. Junior Laurenz Flender was named all-conference in doubles for the second consecutive season. Gregg was named CCAC Men’s Tennis Player of the Year and all-conference for the second year straight. He went 12-0 this season, and finished No. 1 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association NAIA East rankings. He ranked fourth nationally.

“There isn’t a team in any division that wouldn’t want Perry, that he wouldn’t start for,” said Mahone. “Having him, it’s pretty exceptional, to have a player like that who’s only lost one time in his career, in two years. He may have some wins over guys that are ranked in the top 20 in division one, now. He’s pretty phenomenal to have.”

Gregg will lead the Saints down to Mobile, Alabama, for the NAIA national tournament, which starts on May 16. As the No. 19 overall seed, the Saints will take on No. 14 College of Coastal Georgia in the first round of the 24-team tournament.