Mesa State tennis team makes history, advances to nationals
Rashad Khamis has been pulled off the court too many times when tennis matches have been clinched. Saturday at the Elliott Tennis Center, the Mesa State senior wanted to make sure he left on his own accord.
Khamis breezed to a 6-1, 6-4 victory at No. 2 singles and then fidgeted on the court as he watched his teammates try to secure enough points to reach the NCAA Division II national tournament.
He didn’t have to wait long.
The Mavericks won two of three doubles matches and after Khamis won, Niko Carrizo wrapped up a 6-1, 6-1 win at No. 6 singles.
A couple of minutes later, Nick Provenza won 6-1, 6-3 at No. 4 singles and the Mavericks clinched the dual, 5-1 over St. Cloud (Minn.) State and became the first tennis team in school history to reach the NCAA national tournament.
“To be honest, I wanted to make sure I got my match in before everyone else won their singles,” Khamis said of his demonstration of speed tennis. “I wanted to make sure my match counted this time. I’ve been there before when my match didn’t count, so I was racing to get it done.
“That was my game plan, get my match in.”
Khamis and Carrizo lost a tough 9-7 decision at No. 2 doubles, so both seniors were determined to win a team point in singles. Under NCAA playoff rules, the first team to win five matches wins the dual and all other matches are stopped.
Mesa State was leading every match handily — Jordan Chomko was serving at match point at No. 1 singles when play was stopped.
“I think Rashad and Niko were kind of (upset) they lost that doubles point,” Mesa State coach Dan MacDonald said. “Rashad had a quick warmup and was up 5-0 before I turned around. He wasn’t stopping on changeovers, he wanted to get a point.
“He’s had a few times where he’s ready to win the match and we’ve stopped. He decided not today, especially after that doubles match.”
As it turned out, every player in the lineup contributed at least one point to the win, sending the team of four seniors and two freshmen to the national tournament May 12-15 in Altamonte Springs, Fla. The Mavericks will leave Monday afternoon.
Although this is the first NCAA national tournament for Mesa State, it’s not the Mavs’ first national tournament, MacDonald will be quick to tell you.
“There was an NAIA team, and who played on that team?” he asked. Uh, you?
“Yeah. They’ve been hearing that for four years now, hey, the last team that went to nationals was me. I’m going to Florida anyway, guys, why don’t you come along?”
MacDonald is on the national tennis committee, so his flight was already booked, and he’s more than happy for the company.
“It’s awesome for those four seniors, they’ve worked so hard,” he said. “The big thing for me is that they’re my first recruiting class, and Rashad being a big junior college transfer. It’s been four years of hard work for those guys.”
Provenza, who played at Grand Junction High School, was the clinching match, but said it was just a timing thing.
“We had a few guys on the other courts who were close, I just got done quicker,” he said. “They were all well on their way to winning, so there wasn’t too much added pressure.”
Provenza woke up early Saturday morning, eager to play, and once the match was over, reflected on those four years of progressively improving.
“Four years ago I would have said yes (it’s hard to believe), but we put in a lot of hard work and had a lot of good seniors and two really good freshmen in our top six,” he said. “We knew we had a shot to get here, we just had to take care of business.”
Carrizo, who had a large contingent of family on hand (he’s the grandson of Carter and Lena Elliott, for whom the courts are named, and his sister, grandparents and several aunts and uncles were in the stands), was happy he could contribute a key point.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I knew we had the team and the camaraderie to do it,” he said. “It’s surprising, but I knew we had it in us. I wouldn’t want this to happen with any other team.”