earns MAC Player of the Week honors after picking up pair of key
OH---Is there anybody left to beat? Northern Illinois University
men's tennis player Willy Gali might have taken them all
out over the last three-and-a-half months, compiling a career-long
20-match win streak to close out the regular season. The senior's
accomplishments were rewarded Tuesday (Apr. 26) with his first career
Mid-American Conference Player of the Week honor.
Gali (Barcelona, Spain / Ies Avsias March) has been nothing short
of spectacular all spring, having not lost a singles match since
falling to 103rd-ranked Andrew Formanczyk of Michigan State University
all the way back on Jan. 15. Since that time, the Huskie No. 1 has
rattled off 20 consecutive victories including 15 in straight sets.
Only two-time First Team All-MAC honoree and Ball State No. 1 Matt
Baccarani has extended Gali to a third set in his last 11 matches
dating back to Mar. 5. Gali still came out on top, posting a 6-7
(4), 6-2, 10-7 victory over the Cardinal junior Saturday (Apr. 23).
"Willy has been absolutely outstanding this year," NIU
head coach Pontus Hiort said. "To go through an entire
spring season and lose just one match speaks very highly of his
strength, determination, and mental toughness. Our younger guys
really look up to him, and he has provided a great example of how
to compete on a daily basis and even win matches when you aren't
necessarily at your best."
The Barcelona, Spain, native also added a 6-1, 6-1 triumph over
Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne's Landry Nzudie
Sunday (Apr. 24) to close out the regular season at 29-4 in singles
play including a 20-1 mark in dual meets at the No. 1 spot. With
one more victory, Gali can join some elite company as one of just
four Huskies to ever rack up 30 singles wins in a single season
(Steve Wiere with 35 in 1986-87, Sunu Thomas with
34 in 1994-95, and Mike Hill with 31 in 1985-86).
"Willy really thrives in a team environment," Hiort explained.
"He definitely performs at his best when he is playing as part
of a group and not just for himself. It's just another example of
his character and what makes him such a great leader."
It hasn't been an easy road towards the 30-win plateau. Gali owns
victories against five of the Big Ten's 11 No. 1 players, owning
a 5-1 record against opponents from the league. Two of those wins
kickstarted the spring-long win streak when Gali bounced back from
the Formanczyk setback to defeat Wisconsin's Alex Kasarov (6-4,
6-4) and Iowa's Chaitu Malempati (3-6, 7-6, 6-3) on consecutive
weekends. Gali also owns a win over Joerg Barthel of Big 12 representative
Nebraska---a 6-4, 6-4 victory at the Milwaukee Classic on Nov. 3.
A leading candidate for MAC Player of the Year honors, Gali is the
only No. 1 player in the league to boast an undefeated 5-0 mark
in conference duals this season. Perhaps even more impressive is
the fact that the senior is also vying to become the third consecutive
Huskie to take home the Jack Vredevelt Sportsmanship award, following
in the footsteps of Raymond van Wasbeek (2003) and Juan
Pablo Barriga (2004).
"Willy has been a great ambassador for this program and all
of NIU Athletics since the day he got here," Hiort added. "He's
a great sportsman, a great student, and as a coaching staff, we
couldn't ask for better senior leadership than what we've gotten
out of Willy this year."
Gali and the rest of the Northern Illinois squad kick off play at
the MAC Tournament Thursday (Apr. 28) with a quarterfinal matchup
against the University of Toledo. First serve is scheduled for 2:00
p.m. (EDT) in Kalamazoo, MI.