The opponent was the same. The result was the same. The catalyst driving the No. 11 Kentucky men's tennis team to victory was different.
Sophomore Eric Quigley, the 12th-ranked singles player in the nation and the top-ranked Cat, led UK to a 4-0 victory over Cleveland State (20-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex on Saturday.
For the second consecutive season, UK (24-8), ranked No. 11 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and the tournament's No. 12 overall seed, hosted and defeated the Vikings in their NCAA opener. But a season ago, Quigley wasn't the go-to guy. He was behind former top-10 player Bruno Agostinelli and his current doubles teammate, junior Brad Cox.
Fast forward one year, and Quigley has matured into the Cats' No. 1 singles player and one half of the Cats' No. 1 doubles team.
"It's not about who's on the other side, it's about how (Quigley) is going to play, and he did that very well," said Cedric Kauffmann, UK's assistant head coach who watched Quigley's singles match on center court. "He focused, played aggressive, his legs were good, and he served very well."
Quigley's dominating performance came on the heels of disappointment. After a seven-match winning streak to end the regular season, the Cats lost in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals, where, Kauffmann said, the Cats "laid an egg as a team" and Quigley had one of his two worst matches of the year.
Despite a three-week layoff, the Cats, who tied the 1984 and 1992 teams for most wins in a season, took a 1-0 lead after securing the doubles point against the Vikings.
"Usually, when I have a couple of weeks off and haven't played a match, I'm a little rusty, but I didn't feel that way today," Quigley said. "I'm really pleased with my performance and the team's performance today."
The 22nd-ranked tandem of Quigley and Cox broke serve against Cleveland State's All-Horizon League duo, Ryan Hamning and Phil Orno, en route to a 3-0 lead in the premier doubles match. Hamning and Orno tried to rally but fell 8-5.
The Cats' other ranked team, Alex Lambropoulos and Alberto Gonzalez, won 8-5 at No. 2 doubles to clinch the point. UK's Alex Musialek and Anthony Rossi led 7-2 at No. 3 doubles.
Quigley began to showcase his skills in the No. 1 singles match with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Orno, which gave the Cats a 2-0 lead and improved Quigley's record to 10-1 since the start of April.
Orno appeared frustrated, something Quigley said only gives him momentum and pushes him to "step" on his opponent.
Gonzalez won at No. 5 singles to push UK's lead to 3-0 before Musialek sealed the victory with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Yannick Goossens, who lost the final game by virtue of his second unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty of the match.
"I think our team is really eager to play this (tournament)," UK Coach Dennis Emery said.
Quigley will try to lead his team again in the second round against Georgia Tech on Sunday.
Tech (18-7) moved on after a 4-1 win over Binghamton (25-2). The Yellow Jackets took the early lead via the doubles point and posted wins at the Nos. 2, 4 and 6 singles. The Bearcats managed to win the No. 5 singles to avoid the sweep.
Sunday's match between UK and 24th-ranked Georgia Tech will allow Quigley to test his mettle against the nation's No. 4 singles player, Guillermo Gomez.
"Everyone on the team has put in some good work the last couple of weeks," Quigley said. "We're all coming together, and I think we could make a really good run in the NCAAs."
Kentucky 4, Cleveland State 0
Doubles: No. 1: Brad Cox/Eric Quigley (UK) def. Phil Orno/Ryan Hamning) 8-5; No. 2: Alberto Gonzalez/Alex Lambropoulos (UK) def. Rob Fox/John Haley 8-5; No. 3: Alex Musialek/Anthony Rossi (UK) led Yannick Goossens/Chris Klepatz 7-2, dnf.
Singles: No. 1: Quigley (UK) def. Orno 6-0, 6-3; No. 2: Musialek (UK) def. Goossens 6-2, 6-2; No. 3: Cox (UK) led Hamning 7-6 (7-2), 5-5, dnf; No. 4: Rossi (UK) led Fox 6-2, 5-4, dnf; No. 5: Gonzalez (UK) def. Klepatz 6-1, 6-2; No. 6: Lambropoulos (UK) led Haley 3-6, 6-2, 1-0, dnf.