The next chapter is yet to be written, but Northwest campus still wants to know which sports program is next in line to becoming national champions.
After making NCAA history, Bearcat nation celebrated the once-in-a-lifetime moment per usual with Applebee's half-price appetizers and Jock’s Nitch Championship apparel.
Arising as the third program to win both football and basketball national titles in the same academic year, the dreams had become reality.
In less than a month’s time, the next question mark was officially stamped into the athletic department’s filing cabinet: who’s next?
The ‘what if’ statments began. What if another Bearcat squad could hoist a Division II national title? Could Northwest Athletics dig deep to find a third national crown and officially change the name of the city from Maryville to Titletown?
The answer prompts an overwhelming ‘yes.’
The Northwest baseball team is on a hot streak, winning its last nine-straight games and would seem like the logical next team to take up the championship mantel. Though baseball may be impressive, a more probable sport to raise the coveted national crown is the Bearcat men’s tennis team.
Many could point to the three losses on the men’s win-loss record as a reason to doubt the team, but what they do not understand is two of those three were on indoor court surfaces.
Though the team will never make an excuse, the difference between Midwest weather and indoor conditions holds a somewhat different playing style without much explanation.
The tennis team possess three glaring resemblances to the 2017 basketball champions, and after head-to-head comparison, the end result may ultimately be the same:
1. 2016 Disappointment
In 2016, both programs were eliminated in heart-breaking fashion after an Elite Eight stumble.
While a good number of Bearcat fans traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to watch Bearcat basketball end its season in 2016, very few traveled to Denver to witness the men’s tennis postseason exit.
Both left with an uneasy feeling and knew a championship run was on the horizon.
Though basketball suffered a two-point loss in its playoff exit, tennis suffered a more memorable blow in a 5-0 thumping from Division II runner-up, Saint Leo.
Northwest basketball redeemed themselves with an unprecedented championship tear through the regular season, ending with only one loss. Men’s tennis has gone on a similar stint so far, and minus the two indoor contests, men’s tennis is right on pace.
2. Storied coaches
Tennis coach Mark Roswell has already stamped his name into Bearcat history as the greatest and most decorated Northwest tennis coach of all-time.
His 25 MIAA regular season championships, 25 MIAA Coach of the Year awards and 1,064 wins defies description.
Basketball coach Ben McCollum may not have all the awards, but he has what no basketball coach at Northwest has ever had: a championship ring.
Nothing else needs to be said about the former Bearcat athlete McCollum because, similar to Roswell, he is arguably the greatest coach in his respective sport.
McCollum will go down as one of the best, and it is time for Roswell to cement his legacy.
3. Pieces of the puzzle
Both programs returned many starters but had one key hole in the starting rotation.
For basketball, it was multi-gifted Conner Crooker.
Though the talented guard graduated, junior Xavier Kurth, freshman Ryan Welty and senior Anthony Woods erased all doubt, sliding into McCollum’s lethal rotation with no questions asked.
These athletes did not enter the winning formula as unknowns. They knew the system and knew their roles.
Starters that need no introduction included senior Zach Schneider, junior Justin Pitts and junior Chris-Ebou Ndow.
For tennis, it was Alvaro Riveros. The Graduate Assistant and former player left his mark playing a large role in the No. 2 slot.
Though Riveros couldn’t compete on the court, men’s tennis followed the same script that Northwest football began and Bearcat basketball followed, “next man up.”
The men’s tennis team followed the trend by filling the No. 2 void with sophomore spectacle Sergi Fontcuberta, junior Mauro Tete and undefeated singles specialist senior Aymeric Autones.
Roswell has perfected his death lineup and will begin his championship climb April 19 in Lincoln, Nebraska at the MIAA championships.