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Depth, dominant Quigley position men's tennis for deep NCAA run

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Eric Quigley, with wins in singles and doubles, helped lead UK to a 4-0 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Eric Quigley, with wins in singles and doubles, helped lead UK to a 4-0 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With his team's NCAA Tournament life on the line against Indiana, the last place Dennis Emery wanted Eric Quigley was on the sidelines.

Or so he thought.

Kentucky's all-time wins leader spent more time as a cheerleader than on the court, posting singles and doubles victories well before any of his teammates finished their own matches. After prevailing 8-3 alongside partner Panav Jha in doubles, he breezed through a never-in-doubt singles match, 6-1, 6-0, a score that somehow didn't even do his performance justice.

Quigley wasted no time moving to support his teammates, and he was greeted by a sight he could hardly believe.

"I walked off the court and I saw Anthony Rossi on court three was like two-all, two-one and I was like, 'That can't be right,' Quigley said. "But it was."

With Quigley anchoring the lineup, the No. 6 Wildcats (27-5) dispatched the visiting Hoosiers to advance to their third Sweet 16 in a row, an achievement not lost on anyone involved.

"He played fantastic in singles and doubles and I think it's a real credit for him," Emery said. "It's a huge match for us. This is the third straight year we've gone to the Sweet 16. They understand all that that means."

With each successive match potentially being the last of Quigley's decorated career, it would be understandable if he placed an inordinate amount of pressure on himself to play well. Instead, he summarily dismissed Isade Juneau, continuing his steak of singles matches without a loss that dates to March 19.

"You have a tendency to maybe think he's going to play a little tight," Emery said. "Just the opposite. He really turned it loose. Maybe not necessarily a great matchup for him at (court) one, but he really took care of business."

Afterwards Quigley, currently ranked third nationally as a singles player, confirmed what everyone who watched him play on Saturday already knew: that he played very well, even by his lofty standards.

"I'm pretty pleased with how I played in singles and doubles today," Quigley said. "It was a quick match, but there's just some days you feel like you can't do anything wrong. I feel like today is one of those days."

In two NCAA Tournament singles matches thus far, Quigley is yet to lose a set, dropping just four games in the process. That comes in stark contrast to last year's tournament run, when UK advanced to the Elite Eight in spite of Quigley losing three times in four singles matches.

Clearly, Quigley has improved his game since then, but he credits reaching a new level of play to his teammates as much anything else. With a deeper lineup and improvement in doubles, Quigley doesn't go into his matches thinking winning or losing will come down to how he fares.

"I really had a good season and it's also really good knowing we're so deep this year one through six," Quigley said. "It really doesn't matter if I win or lose, we can get four other points for sure. I think that's taken a lot off my shoulders this year."

Between the way Quigley and the rest of the Cats are playing, their goals are certainly within reach.

"We're not done," Quigley said. "We really want to keep going and improve on what we did last year and we don't want to end anytime soon. Our goal is to win it all, so anything less, we'll kind of be a little disappointed."

Even so, there are plenty of talented teams and players that could put a premature end to Quigley's career, but the fact that UK is now in position to contend on an annual basis will remain no matter what. Quigley has had a lot to do with that.

"There's almost no way you can describe what he's done for our program. I think he took it from, you know, we had a good culture, but now we have a championship culture."

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