Men’s tennis defeats USF to win first AAC conference crown

History was made last weekend as Tulane men’s tennis claimed the American Athletic Conference crown, ending the University of Southern Florida’s four-year hold on the title and earning the first AAC team title in school history.

Seeded No. 2 heading into the tournament, the Green Wave’s last conference championship appearance was in 2014 and its last win in 2005. Bypassing the first round, Tulane’s road to success began in the quarterfinals on Friday in Dallas, where the Wave solidly defeated No. 7 East Carolina University 4-1.

The semifinals posed a greater challenge, as Tulane faced No. 3 University of Central Florida. The match got off to a rocky start as UCF clinched the doubles point, giving the Knights the lead heading into singles.

Unfazed by this setback, the Green Wave had an impressive comeback, winning at the No. 4, 1 and 5 positions and putting Tulane ahead 3-1. After giving up a point to the Knights, freshman Hamish Stewart pulled ahead at the No. 3 position and secured Tulane’s spot in the championship.

The tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, senior Constantin Schmitz, earned his 100th collegiate match win with his victory in the No. 1 spot. Schmitz is currently ranked 12th nationally.

Heading into the championship on Sunday, it was clear that defeating University of South Florida would be no easy feat. With a 14-0 all-time record in conference tournament play, the Bulls were looking to maintain their status as the only team to claim the crown since the AAC began in 2014.

In a repeat of Saturday, Tulane again struggled at the beginning of the match, and USF was able to secure the doubles point.

Attempting to prove once again that it never gives up, the Green Wave returned to the singles round ready to fight for the title. With wins in the No. 3, 1 and 4 positions, Tulane took the lead, 3-1. USF would not go quietly, however, and after tough matches on courts 5 and 2, the overall match score was tied at 3-3.

It all came down to the No. 6 position, where sophomore Tim Ruetzel was forced into a winner-take-all third set.

The suspense could not have been higher as the set wound down to the final game, with Ruetzel ahead, 6-5. Teammates lined the courts, loudly cheering and anxiously watching the showdown. With the Green Wave ahead 40-15, Ruetzel hit a powerful shot his opponent couldn’t return, and moments later his ecstatic teammates surrounded him as they rushed the court. Game, set, match.

With this victory, Tulane claimed a spot at the NCAA Men’s tennis championships, which begins May 18 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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