Thrilling victories in league tournament matches have become nothing out of the ordinary for the Valparaiso University men’s tennis program. The Crusaders are back in a league championship match for the fourth consecutive season after a heart-stopping 4-3 victory over four-time defending Summit League champion Denver on Friday night at Gates Tennis Center in Colorado. Sophomore Daniel Langston (Ponca City, Okla. / Ponca City) played the role of hero, coming from down 5-1 to take a pressure-packed third set, snapping a 3-3 deadlock and igniting Valpo’s celebration.
How It Happened
- After the doubles point proved to be the difference the first time these two teams met – a 4-3 Denver win that saw a first doubles tiebreak dictate the outcome – this time Valpo took care of business in doubles play. The No. 1 match did not need to reach completion as the Crusaders (9-11) picked up victories on the No. 2 and No. 3 courts.
- Chad Kissell (Latrobe, Pa. / Greater Latrobe) and Brandon Ancona (Belvidere, Ill. / Rockford Christian) teamed up for a 6-4 win over Pedro F. Del Valle and Eric Morris at No. 2, while Brian Pecyna (Glen Ellyn, Ill. / Homeschooled) and Daniel Langston (Ponca City, Okla. / Ponca City) were 6-3 winners over Mattia Ros and Wyatt Lovera at No. 3.
- The Pioneers (11-10) quickly leveled the team score at 1-1 when Del Valle beat Gabriel Carvajal (Pembroke Pines, Fla. / Broward Virtual School [Florida Atlantic]) in straight sets.
- Garrett Gardner (Poland, Ohio / Poland) helped assure that Friday’s match would not be the last of his collegiate career by edging Morris 6-2, 7-6(4) at No. 5.
- All four remaining singles matches required the full three sets in a thrilling match between two quality teams that both played in the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
- Kissell put the Crusaders on the doorstep of a trip to the Summit League final with his 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Ros at first singles. The victory came in impressive fashion as he rebounded from a first set that was all Ros.
- The next match to finish was No. 2 singles, where Matt Summers shrunk what had been a 3-1 lead in the match to 3-2 by virtue of a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Kweisi Kenyatte (Detroit, Mich. / East English Village Preparatory).
- With Ignatius Castelino holding a commanding edge over Langston at No. 6 singles, all eyes shifted to a back-and-forth affair at No. 3 as it seemed the face-off between Jesse Ruder-Hook and Ancona would dictate the match.
- Ancona dropped a thriller 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7), but in the meantime Langston was busy on the comeback trail. The collective gaze of the audience shifted to the Valpo sophomore, who channeled his inner-Kyle Dunn with a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 win to send Valpo back to the league finals. Langston won six consecutive games to capture an incredible third set.
Inside The Match
- This marks the fourth straight season Valpo has reached the league championship match – three times in the Horizon League and now once in the Summit League.
- This is the third consecutive league tournament match Valpo has won 4-3 with the score deadlocked 3-3 prior to a climactic conclusion. Kyle Dunn had the clinching wins in both of last year’s Horizon League Tournament matches, while this time it was Langston filling that role. In terms of drama, Langston perhaps even one-upped Dunn, who was part of a legendary Class of 2017 that led the resurgence of Valpo tennis.
- The last time the Crusaders had a match come down to the final matchup before Friday was last year’s Horizon League Championship win over Cleveland State.
- Valpo dethroned a Denver team that had won the Summit League title each of the last four seasons.
- Gardner’s victory at No. 5 came against Morris, who beat Ancona at No. 2 the last time Valpo and Denver played. Kissell topped Ros for the second straight meeting, while Langston did not play singles the first time the two teams met.
- Gardner boosted his career total to 74 singles wins. He ranks fourth in program history in that area.
- Kissell, only a junior, gained his 64th career singles win and his 61st doubles win. He is eighth in program history in singles and seventh in doubles.
- Langston is now 5-1 against Summit League opponents this spring after he finished 4-1 in regular season conference action.
The Crusaders are one win away from their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The foe standing in the way is the Summit League regular season champion Drake Bulldogs (18-13), who rolled to a 4-0 win over Oral Roberts in Friday’s other semifinal. The Crusaders will look to flip the script on a 6-1 loss to the Bulldogs from two weeks ago. The championship match begins at 2 p.m. CT with links to live stats and a video stream available.