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Men's tennis wins national championship

Aug. 23, 2004

By CATHERINE BROWN, sports editor

Baylor's men's tennis team brought home the 2004 NCAA national team tennis championship in late May. This is the first national team championship in Baylor's history.

"We became a great team, and that was something we talked about early in the year," head Coach Matt Knoll said. "Our whole season pointed toward trying to play our best tennis when it mattered the most, and it worked out exactly like we hoped it would."

The Bears swept University of California at Los Angeles 4-0 at the final in Tulsa, Okla.

Senior Matias Marin clenched Baylor's final point by defeating 60th-ranked Chris Lam in straight sets 6-3, 6-2.

Fellow senior Reiner Neurohr was leading the first set of his singles match 4-3 when play was suspended. Neurohr and his doubles partner Ivor Lovrak won the first doubles match 8-4, earlier in the day.

Knoll said the seniors were a big part of the team's success.

"The seniors were spectacular," Knoll said. "I thought all along that were going to need a special group of seniors to help us win the first title. We needed guys that when they got to this stage of their careers, felt like they were still hungry; that there was work left undone. Matias and Reiner both felt like their careers wouldn't be complete without doing well at this tournament. They both played very well."

Marin said he felt all the parts of the team were important.

"It's nice that coach said that about us, but all the guys were important," he said. "Even the guys not playing were cheering loudly and contributed to our success on the court."

Neurohr said Knoll stressed the importance of senior leadership since he's been at Baylor.

"I never saw a point of it as a freshman, but it's really important," he said. "It's not what you say, but more what you do. Seniors are big support for the younger guys when it's crunch time in a match."

Marin said it is unbelievable that the team won.

"That was our goal at the beginning of the season," he said. "It's a dream come true. We practiced hard all season."

Knoll said the neat thing about winning the first championship is "looking back on all the guys that came here when I came here -- my first recruiting class."

"We wouldn't be where we are today without those guys, "he said. "It's special that those guys went through this program and helped get it kick started and get it going in a direction where we had and opportunity to compete at the level we're competing at now."

The tennis team also brought back the 2004 men's singles championship courtesy of junior Benjamin Becker.

"It was a big surprise," Becker said. "I knew that college tennis is very close together [competitively]. I really got lucky to play well in critical moments, and I felt like I, like everybody else on our team, was in better shape than anybody, which helps to outwork your opponents."

Knoll said it's special to have a Baylor player win the singles title.

"I'm just thrilled that it was Bennie. He certainly deserves it, and he played great tennis to win it."

Knoll also said Becker has matured as player since his freshman year. He said Becker made it to the NCAA singles and didn't want to play because it doesn't mean anything to the average person in Germany.

"That's part of the process for him and for a lot of international guys," Knoll said. "It's just understanding that it is very prestigious to compete in that tournament and to win that tournament."

Benedikt Dorsch won the tournament most valuable player and was named the ITA National Player of the Year.

Knoll said winning the singles title and player of the year awards is very prestigious.

"I've seen the list with their names on the bottom now, and all the guys who've done it, it's pretty overwhelming," he said. "You see John McEnroe, James Blake, Jimmy Connors, and Stan Smith and guys that have had unbelievable pro careers are the kind of guys who won that award and won that tournament. They'll be on that list forever, and that's fantastic."

Dorsch said the list of players who have won the player of the year is impressive.

"Engraving your name on the list is even better," he said. "I couldn't have done it without the support staff, coaches, and fans that kept pushing us and our own limits."

Other players on the all-tournament team are Becker and Neurohr. The doubles teams of Dorsch and freshman Matija Zgaga and Lovrak and Neurohr also are listed on the team.

Becker said the support of the fans was a big part of winning the title.

"It made a huge difference, so you have to give the fans a lot of credit," he said. "We fed off the energy and excitement they had."

Thinking back on the entire experience at the tournament, Dorsch said what stands out the most in his mind is the bus driver in the middle of the dogpile after winning the title.

"It just showed that we, as the Baylor family, have gotten together so closely, no matter if it was the bus driver, the strength coach or the players," he said. "We won it as the best and, foremost, biggest team there was at this year's NCAA championships!"