A gain with pain for CMU
Mesa senior fights off cramps to help Mesa knock off No. 23 BYU-Hawaii
Andres Garcia-Rojas was flat on his back, Colorado Mesa University trainer Naomi Brown massaging muscle cramps in both of his legs, CMU men’s tennis coach Dan MacDonald massaging cramps in the senior’s right hand and forearm.
And while Garcia-Rojas was down, he shared a message with his coach about the match in which he was trailing 4-3 in the third set.
“He told me, ‘I’m going to find a way to pull this out,’ ” MacDonald said.
True to his word, Garcia-Rojas returned to play after a five-minute medical timeout and found the strength, hustle, endurance and determination he needed to defeat Brigham Young University-Hawaii’s Wei-Feng Lee at No. 2 singles.
And with his 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 win, Garcia-Rojas handed the Mavericks a 5-4 team victory, or as MacDonald put it: “One of the biggest team wins in the history of the men’s tennis program since I’ve been there.”
Putting that in perspective, MacDonald has coached Mesa for 10 years and guided four men’s teams to the NCAA Division II tournament, including a Sweet 16 berth in 2010. But Wednesday’s win was an unranked CMU team defeating the No. 23-ranked Seasiders.
“It was a really big win for a great group of kids who really worked hard and do all of the little things,” MacDonald said.
Mesa’s three seniors — Garcia-Rojas, Spencer Weinberg and Trevor Brown — led the way, picking up four of the wins.
First, Weinberg and Garcia-Rojas teamed for an 8-3 win at No. 1 doubles. Then, each senior won in singles play, Weinberg in three sets at No. 1 singles and Brown in straight sets at No. 6.
Weinberg and Garcia-Rojas were the last two Mavericks playing, and Mesa needed each to win to get the team victory.
Weinberg won his first set 6-4 against Ibrahim Karmadzha, then got drubbed 6-1 in the second set.
The tenacious competitor Weinberg has been for all four of his seasons at CMU then resurfaced in the third set, a pep talk from MacDonald echoing in his mind and a plan to go to the net and attack Karmadzha’s backhand about to be deployed.
“I was talking to Coach (MacDonald), and he said, ‘You’ve been working all season for this. ... Embrace this moment,’ ” Weinberg said.
Weinberg fell behind 4-2 in the third set, then claimed the next three points to go up 5-4. Karmadzha held serve to tie the set 5-5, but Weinberg followed a game-point serve to the net to hit a cross-court winner for a 6-5 lead, then broke Karmadzha’s serve to win his match and tie the meet 4-4.
That left the Mavs’ fate in the hands of Garcia-Rojas, who had most of the third set still to play when Weinberg joined the Mesa cheering section.
Garcia-Rojas had claimed the first set 6-4, then trailed 4-0 in the second before falling 7-5.
The third set was a back-and-forth affair. Garcia-Rojas opened it by holding serve, and Lee won the next two games. Garcia-Rojas returned in kind for a 3-2 lead.
Then, Lee took the next two games for a 4-3 advantage, and Garcia-Rojas took to the ground courtside at the Elliott Tennis Center, where Naomi Brown and MacDonald went to work on his affected muscles.
Garcia-Rojas said he rarely gets muscle cramps, and the times he has gotten them “were never like that. It was like my full leg. It was hard to walk.”
Brown and MacDonald did enough for Garcia-Rojas to win the next two games for a 5-4 lead, which took him to another break, where he got a much quicker massage of his legs and a couple bites of a banana for some potassium to help ward off muscle cramping.
Each player held serve, and Garcia-Rojas took a 6-5 lead into the final break. This time, he didn’t need any muscles massaged, just some packets of mustard, another remedy for muscle cramps. He proceeded to break Lee’s serve, and upon securing the win, Garcia-Rojas dropped his racket, briefly raised his arms and pumped his right fist.
Soon after, he was surrounded by teammates. One of them said, “You set the tone for the rest of the year right there.” And another teammate echoed: “You set the tone.”
Garcia-Rojas attributed his third-set perseverance to “will to win, I think,” and he thanked his teammates, saying their support matters.
“They kind of willed me through it,” he said.
Garcia-Rojas also thought the way he closed the second set, fighting back before losing it, gave him momentum. And he fell back on a saying he and Weinberg have become fond of during their senior seasons.
“We’ll die on the court,” Garcia-Rojas said. “Not for ourselves. For each other, for our teammates. ... The adrenaline was going, and I was willing to die, like Spencer said. If I collapse on the court, I collapse on the court.”
Garcia-Rojas knew his team needed him to win, and he was aware of the quality of the opposition the Mavericks faced in BYU-Hawaii, which has a long tradition of success under coach Dave Porter, who earlier this season netted his 1,328th win, the most of any NCAA tennis coach at any level.
“They’re a top 25 team in the nation, and we had nothing to lose,” Garcia-Rojas said. “Coach said, ‘You have an opportunity to show what you’re made of.’ ”