Wildcats exit Big East tournament early

Kyle Scudilla

The Villanova men’s tennis team took a huge step this season in making the Big East tournament. However, their experience there was not long, as they were defeated by Rutgers and Georgetown in their two matches during the past week.

The Wildcats, who went into the tournament as the number six seed, took on the number three seeded Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University. Although the ‘Cats-Knights match-up in the regular season was a closely contested, 4-3 Rutgers win, the postseason told a different tale, with Rutgers toppling Villanova 4-0.

Rutgers won 8-2 victories in first doubles and third doubles to open the match. The teams of Aaron Kusza/Ricardo Baraldi and Scott Fahrendorf/Charlie Farmer fell to their opponents.

Rutgers’ success rolled on into singles play, as Baraldi and Angel Rubio both fell in their respective matches. Rutgers clinched the match when Aaron Kusza was forced to retire due to injury. He won the first set from his No. 1 singles counterpart, Tyler Deming, 6-3, but lost the next one 0-6 and retired down 0-3 because of a thigh bruise he sustained while running into a fence pole going after one of his opponent’s shots. The win for Rutgers was the deciding point, and all other matches were stopped.

The loss to Rutgers dropped Villanova to the consolation bracket where they took on Georgetown for a chance at fifth place in the tournament. Ricardo Baraldi played a big role in leading the Villanova charge, but in the end, the Wildcats fell to the Hoyas 4-3. Baraldi teamed with fellow senior Aaron Kusza for a win at No. 1 doubles, by a score of 9-8 (5).

The Hoyas, however, were able to take the remaining doubles matches, beating the pairs of Sean Gallagher/Dimitri Chimerakis and Fahrendorf/Farmer.

Baraldi, a native of Delray Beach, Fla., also won a three-set match at second singles, where he knocked off Scott Maucher 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Fahrendorf and Gallagher also picked up singles wins for the Wildcats at fifth and sixth singles, respectively. The Wildcats rallied too late to force the deciding match to be at first singles, where Georgetown’s Erik Bildman defeated Kusza, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.

Villanova (7-15) finished the season with a sixth-place finish in the Big East conference. Despite the losses at the tournament, Coach Bob Batman took some positives from the Wildcats’ play.

“I felt the character and will of the team showed to everyone at the Big East tournament that anyone who would have drawn us would know they would be in for a battle,” said Batman, commenting on the overall performance of his team. “I was quite pleased with our effort and showing.”

Villanova faces a tough road for next year, as four key seniors, team captain Aaron Kusza, Ricardo Baraldi, Sean Gallagher and Angel Rubio will all be leaving the team next year. Each of the returning members to the 2005-2006 squad will be sophomores next year, making them the senior members of the team.

Despite these seemingly drastic changes, Coach Batman does not think that they will take away from the team’s competitiveness next season.

“All [seniors] will be missed as we will return a gritty and determined group of four freshmen. All the freshmen gained inestimable experience at various positions in both singles and doubles throughout the year. I have every faith that thesesophomores have the leadership characteristics to accept this unique challenge.”

Senior Aaron Kusza, who had been a big part of the tennis team over the past four years, serving as the team’s captain this season and a No. 1 singles and doubles player, has nothing but good memories to share from his time as a Wildcat, especially this season, where he and his fellow seniors made their first Big East tournament in their four years at Villanova.

“Like any senior, it is very difficult to graduate and leave a team behind,” he said. 

“However, there is no coach or group of freshmen who I would rather leave the team to than the ones who are there now.  It has been a pleasure to play alongside them at a university that has given me so much.  It is sad to leave, but it is only appropriate that we seniors graduate after finally achieving our ‘one goal’: making it to the BigEast Championships.”