Down two points in the tie-breaking set against Texas A&M’s Noah Schecter, Oklahoma freshman Mason Beiler knew the score didn’t matter, even though it was the defining set that would advance the winner to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tennis Championships.
The Sooners secured the doubles point and two singles points. The teams were tied 3-3, and the entire match now rested on who came out of Court 5 as the winner. If Beiler let Schecter expand A&M’s lead, the Sooners were going home.
But Beiler knew it was important to play his own game, not his opponent’s.
“I didn’t want the score influencing my game plan and the way I was going to go and play each point,” Beiler said. “I would say that was probably the main thing: that I wanted to play the way that I wanted to play.”
“At that time you’re just thinking about winning one more point at a time and figuring out how we can get one more point on the board,” coach Nick Crowell said. “You want him to play his game. Play free. Go for his shot and trying to keep him calm during that situation.”
The end result was Schecter throwing his racket down in frustration as Beiler’s teammates stormed him in celebration.
Beiler came back with a 9-7 set win to seal the match-winning fourth point for the 21st-ranked Sooners, who upset No. 13 A&M and are now headed to Winston Salem, North Carolina, to face No. 3 Wake Forest at 3 p.m. Friday.
OU had been 1-9 against top-25 teams in the regular season.
“It was a major confidence boost,” Beiler said about the win. “Not only for me but for the team as well. This was probably our best win of the season, so it helps us tremendously. It was incredible.”
To celebrate, Beiler dropped his racket and pumped both of his fists in the air as his teammates had him surrounded. But during the match, Crowell saw a calm and collected freshman leader who kept his composure.
Crowell has always seen that in Beiler, even when the freshman was in middle school. Back when he was an assistant coach for Florida State, Crowell watched Beiler — a New Port Richey, Florida, native — play in tournaments all over the Sunshine State.
“We knew he was a really good player and I just really liked his character and his ability to fight and I also liked how he played,” Crowell said. “He had a really big forehand and he really tried to play to win with an aggressive style. I thought that would bode well for our teams.”
The two built a relationship as Beiler went through high school. He ultimately committed to OU as a junior, after Crowell got the OU head coaching job in 2016.
“I think Mason is going to be a top-ranked college guy,” Crowell said. “He just gets gets in here and does the work and he’s got a big enough game. I think the future’s really bright for him. He’s going to continue to develop.”
Beiler’s play against A&M last week reminds him of that.
“In terms of clutch performances at the moment,” Crowell said, “that was by far his greatest.”