NSJ College Team of the Year: Wake Forest dominates men’s tennis

The Demon Deacons started and finished the season as the nation’s top team

Wake Forest’s Petros Chrysochos returns the ball during his win over teammate Borna Gojo in the 2018 NCAA Individual Men’s Tennis Championship in Winston-Salem. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

It wasn’t exactly the Grand Slam. But when it comes to men’s college tennis, Wake Forest won everything worth winning in 2018.

The Deacons started the season ranked No. 1 in the nation and finished it the same way, winning the national championship on their own home courts by beating Ohio State 4-2 on May 23. A week later, junior Petros Chrysochos won the school’s first individual title by beating teammate Borna Gojo in the national final.

Chrysochos then capped off a dominant year on Nov. 11 by earning a straight-set victory against Southern Cal’s Daniel Cukierman to win the Oracle ITA fall national championships singles title.

Those performances are the reason Wake tennis has been chosen as the College Team of the Year in North Carolina by the staff of the North State Journal.

“It feels amazing,” Deacons coach Tony Bresky told Gold Rush magazine after the team competition. “A lot of time, sacrifice and hard work goes into something like this. It is a special group of guys we have. They care so much.”

Backed by a standing room only crowd at the Wake Forest Tennis Center, the Deacons (31-2) got off to a strong start in the national championship match against Ohio State with doubles victories from the teams of Gojo and Skander Mansouri, and Chrysochos and Botzer to earn the opening point.

The Deacons and Buckeyes split the first four singles matches completed, with Chrysochos beating Ohio State’s J.J. Wolf 6-1, 6-3 at No. 2 and Mansouri downing John McNally 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3 for the two Wake wins, leaving the outcome hinging on the final two pairings.

As Gojo prepared for a tiebreaker looking to extend his match against the Buckeyes’ Mikael Torpegaard at No. 1 to a decisive third set, freshman Bar Botzer — a native of Israel — rallied from 5-2 down in his second set at No. 4 singles to clinch the title.

It is the ninth team national championship in school history, joining baseball in 1955, men’s golf in 1974, ’75 and ’86, field hockey in 2002, ’03 and ’04, and men’s soccer in 2007.

“This means everything to me,” senior team member Christian Seraphim told Gold Rush. “The beauty of it is that it’s college tennis. It’s a team effort. We share it. Every point matters out there. We have some great guys that always deliver.”

Wake continued to deliver into the individual phase of the NCAA championships with both Chrysochos and Gojo advancing through the bracket to become only the fourth teammates — and first since 1998 — to be matched against one another in the men’s singles final.

Chrysochos and Gojo are just the second and third players in program history to reach the finals of the singles championship, joining Noah Rubin who did so in 2015.

Chrysochos took an early advantage against his fellow Deacon, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. It would be a lead the native of Larnaca, Cyprus, would not relinquish en route to a 6-3 victory in the opening set.

Midway through the second set, Chrysochos broke Gojo, who’s from Croatia, before picking a second break later in the match. The junior served out the 6-3 second-set victory before the two embraced at the net.

“You saw at the end I didn’t celebrate,” Chrysochos said. “I didn’t need to because the biggest accomplishment was walking on that court with my teammate, my friend. I didn’t care which one of us won. It was a team effort that got us both there.

“Most of the time, when you make it to a final, it is an individual accomplishment, but I felt like Borna helped me get to this point. It was a huge advantage to play this tournament at home and we made the best of it.”

Also Considered: UNC baseball; UNC field hockey; Appalachian State football; and the NC State swim team.

Looking Back

Last year’s prediction of Duke basketball as the NSJ’s 2018 Team of the Year fell a little short. The Blue Devils, led by one-and-done freshman Marvin Bagley, came close to fulfilling their promise by advancing to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. But Grayson Allen’s potential game-winner against Kansas rimmed out at the end of regulation and the Jayhawks went on to win in overtime, denying Duke a trip to the Final Four and a shot at the national championship.