IOWA CITY — Josh Silverstein was focused on his final tennis match for the University of Iowa.
The Hawkeye senior was locked in a back-and-forth No. 1 singles battle with Ohio State’s fifth-ranked Mikael Torpegaard when it was abandoned, because the Buckeyes had already secured enough points to win the team competition.
As teammates, family and friends approached him on the court with handshakes, hugs and well-wishes, reality set in for the previously second-team all-Big Ten performer from Great Neck, N.Y.
“I was thinking win this match and then suddenly it was over,” said Silverstein, who was leading the second set 2-1 after dropping the opener on 11-9 tiebreaker. “Then it kind of dawned on me my college career is over.
“It’s been such a good ride. All those emotions kind of hit at once. It was sad.”
Top-seeded Ohio State defeated No. 8 Iowa, 4-0, in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Conference men’s tennis tournament Friday at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex. The Hawkeyes finished the season 16-15.
“I thought our guys played well,” Iowa four-year head coach Ross Wilson said. “Ohio State is a great team. They are No. 3 in the country and I think they’ve won this tournament 12 times in a row so they are obviously a tough customer. I’m proud of the effort our guys showed today.”
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Silverstein and classmate Jake Jacoby were among Wilson’s first recruits. They were both key components in turning a program closer to the bottom of the NCAA Division I rankings to one that climbed to 33rd in 2016.
“It’s really been a great year and we’ve advanced the program a lot,” Wilson said. “I’m just thankful for Josh and Jake, the two seniors, who came here when Iowa tennis was 177th in the country and have helped us get back into the top 50.
“We had the highest-ranked win in the history of the program this year,” Wilson said. “We’ve had our highest national ranking since I’ve been here for four years. They’ve really meant a lot to this program.”
Now, they leave some big tennis shoes to fill. The roster consisted of one junior — Jonas Larsen. Sophomore Kareem Allaf could be a candidate to elevate to that No. 1 spot. Allaf played as well as anyone late in the season, closing with nine straight victories.
Wilson said winning that many matches against Big Ten competition is impressive.
“He’s matured,” Wilson said. “His game has gotten better. It doesn’t surprise me that he won nine in a row, but I’m very happy he’s starting to realize his potential.
“It’s definitely possible he can be a top-50 player in college tennis with the talent he has and if he keeps maturing as a person and stays committed he’s definitely going to get there.”
Allaf was on his way to a 10th, leading Tim Seibert, 7-6 (7-2), 4-1, and claiming the only set against the Buckeyes before the match was also abandoned. He said the streak was a product of resilience, staying focused in matches and making that habit.
“I competed really hard,” Allaf said. “I’ve been playing well the last 10 to 11 matches.
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“I could have 10 matches in a row, but what matters most is if the team wins or not. It didn’t really matter if I was winning. I just wanted the team to win. It’s kind of sad, but we will bounce back next year.”
Allaf and Larsen will be the elder statesmen next year. The Hawkeyes have talented young players, including three freshmen and two sophomores ready to step in and continue the progress. Freshmen Piotr Smietana, Joe Tyler and Will Davies earned spots in the starting lineup this season.
“Those guys are talented guys,” Wilson said. “They’re great team guys. They have a lot of potential to keep improving in the future and the recruiting class we have coming in the fall is no different.
“Every year you have to make sure you keep getting the talented players that can keep getting better every year and we’ll give it another run next season.”
Silverstein will pass the torch to the younger competitors entrusted with the program’s success. He has faith the returning players will keep things moving in the right direction.
“I believe in them,” Silverstein said. “I’d like to think me and Jake Jacoby set the culture here and these guys are going to continue it. Improve every single year. Things are happening for this program and the best is yet to come.”
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