Western Michigan men's tennis returns to the NCAA Tournament on Friday to face No. 15 Illinois. Hosted by the University of Illinois, the four-team regional match is set to start at 5 p.m.
A season ago, head coach Dave Morin's team found themselves in the same spot as regular season and Mid-American Conference Tournament champions. Their season ended after they were defeated by Notre Dame, 4-1 in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
A year after the record breaking 22-5 season, WMU men's tennis delivered another pair of MAC Championships this season after Sunday's MAC Championship win. Down 3-0, NIU's Mikko Malinen almost pulled off the improbable comeback, tying the match 3-3. WMU's Peter Kuszynski delivered on what Morin called "pulling a Houdini", clinching the victory in a third-set tiebreaker.
"Peter's been a clutch player for us, it was a total team effort for us to win, but he got the headline winning that match the way it came down to the wire," Morin said.
On Monday, April 29, at the NCAA Selection Show party held at Roadhouse University Grill, Kuszynski and his team found out to little surprise they would be matched-up against Illinois.
"We had a pretty good idea we would be playing at Illinois, we had heard from the pundits out there even last week that we would be going to Illinois, so I don't think we were surprised to be playing them, but I think it's going to be a great environment," Morin said.
Coming in as the No. 15 team in the country, even though the Fighting Illini boast the same record as WMU (18-8), they'll enter the match as the heavy home favorite, thanks to their record against underdog opponents. Illinois is undefeated against teams outside of the top-25, all of their 8 losses coming to top-25 foes. WMU stands outside of those standings, unranked in the Intercollegiate College Tennis rankings, and the United States Tennis Association rankings.
It's worth mentioning Iowa and Minnesota (the two teams mutual opponents this season) both beat WMU and were downed by Illinois.
The 2003 NCAA Men's Tennis Champions, the Illini are a program no stranger to the spotlight. A perennial NCAA Tournament attendee, the Illini enter the match with a 99% chance to advance according to SLAM Tennis.
"We're going to have our hands full but we've also had quite a bit of success ourselves," Morin said. "Hopefully we keep doing the things we've been doing all year, but everyone's going to have to have a good day in order to find success."
More success for Morin
Finding success is what Morin and his veteran team know all too well. Earning his second consecutive Coach of The Year honors (the 12th of his career), Morin has taken 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament and has won the MAC regular season 10 times in his 23 year career.
"We've had our fair share of titles and success and I attribute that to just getting quality people," Morin said. "We've put a system into place that's stood the test of time."
Morin continued to made history this season, winning 400 games and eclipsing former head coach Jack Vredevelt (1974-96) as the longest tenured tennis coach in school history. The 2019 senior class holds a MAC record of 33-3 and three MAC Championships — the best mark of any class in program history.
"It starts with getting quality student athletes, our assistant Pablo Nunez has been fantastic and we've been fortunate to have some great assistants over the years."
While The Broncos have had four different assistant coaches in the last 10 years, Morin has stayed the course during his program's historic run — even after the Big Ten came calling.
A two-time graduate at the University of Minnesota, Morin admits he's had opportunities to take his career away from Kalamazoo, particularly in the mid-2000s.
"The Big Ten has always had an appeal to me, I thought if I was ever going to leave that would have been my preference. I actually turned down an offer from one of the Big Ten schools and I just think this has been a great state for me professionally but also my family," Morin said.
The victor of over 400 matches, Morin's etched his way into WMU history, becoming one of the all-time winningest coaches Kalamazoo has ever seen.
"'Once you get a taste of winning you want more of it," Morin said. "Winning never gets old, but I am and its been a fun ride."
Morin and the Broncos take on the Fighting Illini on Friday, May 3 at 5 p.m. at Illinois' Atkins Tennis Center.