ORLANDO, Fla. -- With just six players on the roster and the No. 3 seed in a four-team pool, the chances of the University of Maryland making a deep run at the 2018 Tennis On Campus National Championship were slim.
But behind some outstanding doubles performances and a late rally against the top seeds, the Terrapins from College Park, Md., are moving on to play for a title.
The University of Maryland defeated USTA Pacific Northwest champion Oregon State University and the second-seeded University of Miami before wrapping up a perfect first day at the USTA National Campus with a win over the University of Nebraska.
With a 3-0 record in round-robin pool play, the Terrapins advanced to the gold bracket, where they’ll join the other 15 pool winners from Day 1 in Orlando.
Maryland was one of two No. 3 seeds to advance to the gold bracket. The other team, Georgia, defeated New England champion Harvard and second-seeded Georgetown. The Bulldogs will play either Texas sectional champion Texas A&M or Stanford on Friday.
“We’re very excited,” said junior Andrew Tzeng, captain of the Maryland team. “In the past, we’ve qualified for Nationals but never made it into the gold bracket. We never expected to sweep. We always go into a competition expecting it to be tough.
“We were ranked the third-best team in our pool, but we went in with the mindset of playing our game and doing our best.”
In the first match of the day, Maryland trailed Oregon, 18-15, going into the final mixed doubles match, but juniors Martina Dragoytchev and Brian Tsao rallied for a 6-0 victory.
The Terrapins then carried that momentum over in its match against Oregon State, never trailing after building a 12-5 lead following the men’s and women’s doubles. A pair of 6-2 singles victories extended the lead to 24-10, and Dragoytchev and Tzeng wrapped up a 6-5 mixed-doubles win to secure a 30-15 overall triumph.
Maryland concluded the first day in the Sunshine State with a 23-15 win over Nebraska to go 3-0 in pool play and punch its ticket to the gold bracket.
“It’s very competitive,” said Tzeng, an economics and accounting major from Eagle, Idaho. “You only get into the gold bracket if you’re good and if you’re playing smart tennis. You have to outsmart the other teams. It isn’t always about hard shots and hard serves. It’s about strategy and positioning.
“We have solid doubles players, and lot of times it comes down to that, with the guys, girls and mixed doubles. Not only that, but we have good singles players, too.”
Leading the way for the Terrapins is Kelseyville, Calif., resident Dragoytchev and Sparks Glencoe, Md., native Tsao. Both come from strong tennis backgrounds, with Dragoytchev almost playing Division I tennis at Villanova and Tsao growing up training for six years with world No. 58 Frances Tiafoe at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md.
But Dragoytchev wanted to push herself academically while still playing tennis, so club tennis was a natural fit.
“I knew tennis wouldn’t be a career post college, so that is why I took the double major in economics and government and politics and why I’m studying for the LSATs,” Dragoytchev said.
As a junior, Tsao, who played one year of varsity tennis at the University of Louisville, reached the semifinals of the Grade 1 ITF Championships and the International Spring Championships and the quarterfinals at the 2014 Eastern Bowl.
“It helped a lot,” said Tsao, who also trained with No. 50-ranked Jared Donaldson at Taylor Dent’s academy in California. “We build off each other’s energy. I’m six months older than Frances, and I’ve been playing with him since I was 12 years old. We still see each other every time he come home.”
That experience will come in handy when the Terrapins face UCLA on Friday.
Among the other teams joining the Terrapins and the Bruins in the gold bracket are defending champion Michigan, 2016 winners Auburn, Northern California section champion University of California - Berkeley and 2017 Fall Invitational winner Ohio State.
The biggest surprise of the day was Middle States champion and the top seed in Pool F Penn State University going 0-3 in round-robin play.
Pool A: UC Berkeley
Pool B: UCLA
Pool C: University of Illinois
Pool D: University of Maryland
Pool E: Ohio State University
Pool F: North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Pool G: University of Washington
Pool H: University of Michigan
Pool I: Auburn University
Pool J: University of Georgia
Pool K: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Pool L: Stanford University
Pool M: University of Pennsylvania
Pool N: Cornell University
Pool O: UC San Diego
Pool P: North Carolina State University