By Daniel Herrick
With an 8-1 victory over Alma College last Wednesday, the Men’s Tennis team clinched the MIAA regular season title outright and extended their infamous conference championship streak to 76 years. The victory completed an undefeated run through the MIAA regular season, ensuring that the 2014 Hornets sit alone atop the league just one year after a three-team split for the title between Kalamazoo, Calvin and Hope.
“Because of our program’s history, there’s a lot riding on keeping the streak alive, so it’s always one of our top priorities to have a strong performance in conference season play,” said senior Michael Korn.
The undefeated run in the MIAA places the Hornets as the potential host for two matches in this week’s MIAA tournament. K will host Albion College on Thursday at 4:00 p.m., with the winner moving on to the final. Hope, the number two ranked team in the league, will host Adrian on the same day before the two winners meet the following day at the home of the highest-remaining seed.
While the regular season title ensured the continuation of the 76-year MIAA championship streak, a win in the MIAA tournament is necessary for the Hornets to receive the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
“NCAAs are where we set our sights early in the year and are the pinnacle of the season,” said Korn. “Right now, all of our focus is on earning our spot in the tournament and trying to put together everything we’ve learned this season.”
The automatic berth is likely the Hornets only path to the NCAA tournament. The April 10 ITA rankings had Kalamazoo as the 11th-ranked school in the region. Since April 10, the Hornets have lost two matches: at home to Division-I neighbor Western Michigan and a neutral site competition against Gustavus Adolphus (the 4th-ranked school in the central region by the ITA).
While fans have come to expect MIAA wins from the Hornets, K will still have to compete and win the MIAA tournament if they want to ensure the continuation of their season. And for a trio of Hornets in particular, an MIAA tournament win is necessary to ensure their K tennis careers do not end at the hands of an MIAA opponent.
“Our season goals have all been set around our performance in these last two weeks,” said Korn.
Kalamazoo enters the first-round matchup with Albion as the heavy favorite after defeating the Britons on the road in early April: 8-1. Albion’s number-three double’s team was the only match victor for the Britons on that day.
The Hornets handily dispatched both potential final’s match ups as well this season. Neither Hope, nor Adrian was able to take a match from the Hornets as they secured two 9-0 victories.
While the Hornets will enter the tournament as the heavy favorite, those that were a part of last year’s team understand not to take any opponent lightly, and that one day, and one lapse, is all that is necessary to potentially derail a season.
“We have been working hard toward our season and personal goals all year, and it is very important for me, and the team, that we finish on a high note,” said Korn.
Kalamazoo will host Albion College to open the MIAA tournament on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. If the Hornets defeat the Britons, they will be back in action against the winner of Adrian/Hope with the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA’s at stake.