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Coach Wells Patten loaded his St. Scholastica men’s and women’s tennis teams onto a bus Wednesday for a unique dual trip to the NCAA Division III regional tournaments. He knew that the team would be stopping in Madison, Wis., and he also knew they would be splitting up, with the men heading for Chicago and the women off to Whitewater, Wis., for their separate regionals this weekend.
Patten also knew one other thing was certain: He would not be adjusting his player lineups for either team. And why would he? After all, the Saints men defeated Northwestern 8-1 Saturday to provide Patten with his 299th coaching victory with the Saints. And after that, the Saints women defeated Northwestern, also 8-1, for No. 300.
But he has another reason to refuse any changes when the Saints (14-7) take on Grinnell (25-4) on Friday. The winner advances to face Gustavus on Saturday.
“Two years ago, we had a men’s team a lot like this year’s,” said Patten. “Good skill and a lot of depth. That was the first year the UMAC champion got an automatic bid to the NCAA Regional, and we were going to play Luther, and I switched the players on our first and second doubles teams. Not a big change, but we lost one of the matches 5-4, and we finished with a 20-1 record. If I hadn’t switched, we would have been undefeated.
“This is the first year our men have made it to the NCAA, and it’s the eighth time for our women, who went seven times before, and four times when we were in the NAIA. This is one of our stronger teams, and we think we might have a better chance this year. Anybody can beat any other team when you get to this level, it just depends on if somebody gets hot.”
The St. Scholastica women earned their fifth straight trip to the NCAA D-III competition. At 17-6, the Saints face host Wisconsin Whitewater (12-11) Friday, for the third time in five years. The winner plays the winner between Carleton and Edgewood. Patten said his only regret for what is a special weekend is that he is head coach of both teams but he will have to leave his assistant coach in charge of the women, because they play at the same time.
Based on Saturday’s UMAC men’s championship match at Longview, everybody is pretty hot. At No. 1 singles, Serhii Tykhonenko, a junior from Kiev, in the Ukraine, had a tough battle before beating Landon Ridpath 4-6,-6-4, 1-0- (10-4). Tykhonenke won player of the year in the UMAC for the third straight year.
The Saints international flavor came through when Elliot Schneider, a sophomore from Duluth East, beat Davis Pfaff 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 singles. Rafa Gonzalez won 6-3, 2-6, 1-0 (10-2) at No. 3 singles, over Austin Bricker, while Anton Sopin won 6-0, 6-2 at No. 4 against Tyrus Studer. Jack Kearney lost the No,. 5 match 4-6, 5-7 two Matthew Wedin of Northwestern, but Jack Jolowsky won 6-3, 4-6, 1-0 (10-4) over Isaac Velgersdyk.
In doubles, Tykhonenko and Gonzalez won 8-2 at No. 1, Schneider-Jolowsky won 8-3 at No. 2, and Spin-Kearney won 8-5 at No. 3.
In Division III, singles matches are two sets with a tie-breaker, which is first to 10, winning by 2, while doubles matches are a single pro set, to 8, winning by 2.
Also in Division III, there are no athletic scholarships, so attracting athletes to get an expensive education and play sports on the side is pivotal. The international flavor is distinct on this team, with players from Russia, Ukraine, El Salvador and wherever. But it doesn’t mean that after 23 years, Patten has become a world traveler.
“They have a worldwide computer ranking system now called the UTR — for Universal Tennis Rating — and it ranks every tennis player in the world on the basis of 0-16,” Patten said. “It is amazingly accurate. Roger Federer is ranked at 15.97. And if you see a player who is ranked at 11.5 and he’s going against someone ranked 9, the one who is ranked 11.5 is going to win, almost without exception. It has really helped recruiting.
“We get contacted by a player, and if he’s ranked high enough, we know we might lose him to a program that can give scholarships. We can’t, so we talk it over with the players and explain what our school can give them. I can tell how good a prospect is, and if he’s a 12, we know he might get some scholarship offers, but if he’s a 9.5, we discuss with him how it’s unlikely he will get a scholarship offer and he should consider alternatives.
“We have had two players who did NOT graduate in four years, and i’m proud of that. We have smart kids, a lot of 3.5 students.”
UMAC Baseball Set for Wade Stadium
St. Scholastica could run into its favorite rival — Wisconsin-Superior — in the UMAC conference baseball tournament that starts Thursday and runs through double elimination at Wade Stadium.
UWS is seeded fourth with a 9-7 league record and faces No. 5 Crown (14-12) in the tournament’s opening game. That winner advances to face top-seeded St. Scholastica (14-2) at 7 p.m. No. 2 Bethany Lutheran (13-3) takes on No. 3 Northwestern (10-6) in the 2 p.m. game. Doubles-elimination play continues all day Friday, leading up to the championship game Saturday.