By RICK PETERSON
After being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the ITA Regional doubles tournament, Washburn University's Tim Hammes and Santiago Rendon had to sweat out some anxious moments just to get in last week's ITA Cup doubles field.
"It was a wait and see, but we were also confident,'' said Rendon, a senior out of Bogota, Columbia. "The first thing we did after the (regional) tournament finished was go to the website and see what the requirements were to get to the ITA Cup and it was making it to the quarterfinals and being in the top 20 in the rankings last year and we were 17th.
"So we had our hopes that we could go and then the results from all the other regions benefitted us.''.
"We knew that basically everything had to go our way to even get in so we were just checking the scores from all the other regions and just hoping that certain results were working out in our favor,'' said Hammes, a junior from Krefeld, Germany. "We probably knew that we had a really good chance to get in, but we were not 100 percent sure. Once we knew we got in we were very happy.''
Washburn coach Kirby Ronning also was cautiously optimistic that Hammes and Rendon would make it into the ITA Cup field, but also knew that anything could happen.
"You have an idea, but until they call your name you don't want to get too excited about it,'' Ronning said.
But after gaining an at-large bid for the tournament in Mount Berry, Ga., Hammes and Rendon capitalized on the opportunity in a big way, completing a dominant tournament performance run to capture the first national championship in WU men's program history.
Hammes and Rendon didn't drop a set through the last two rounds on their way to the first national championship of any kind for Washburn athletics since former Washburn Rural star Madeline Hill won the ITA Cup women's singles championship for the Ichabods in 2016.
Hammes and Rendon started the day with a 6-4 win in the first set of their semifinal match against Phil Exner and Alex Blanchar of Ouachita Baptist. The Ichabods finished off the match in the same fashion with another 6-4 win to advance into the national championship match.
Rendon and Hammes kept rolling in the championship match with a 6-2 first-set win over Cas de Ruiter and Toedor Zlatar from Harding University and finished off the match with a 6-2 second-set victory.
"We were just playing very confident and we trust each other and we were able to play very well in the tough moments of the matches,'' Rendon said. "We always go to a tournament with the objective of winning it, but you never think that you're going to be a national champion.''
"We had some really good momentum going and I'm just really happy how it worked out in the end for us,'' Hammes said.
Ronning said the WU duo showed its grit in the national tournament.
"One of the things we talk about with our guys about is just playing fearless and going for it in the big moments,'' Ronning said. "When I was watching Santi and Tim's match at the regional I felt like they were playing it a little bit too safe and I think the biggest difference for them this past week was when they needed to win a point, they went for it.''
Ronning said the national title can only help Washburn as a program moving forward.
"I just think it provides validation for what we're doing,'' he said. "As head coaches we're salesmen. We're trying to sell kids on what we have to offer them as far as experience goes.
"I've been really up front and transparent with kids about the experience we can offer them. It all centers around the academics and the tennis at Washburn. We have great access to indoors. We've got phenomenal strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers. Everybody that's around the program is helping our kids maximize their potential with this game.
"There's not a lot of secrets as far as what we do. It's just a lot of hard work and a lot of time invested on the court.''