Five tiebreakers. Over eight hours of match play. Three hundred and fifty-three total games played. That’s what Sunday had in store for the men’s tennis team, which kicked off the away portion of its NESCAC schedule with a doubleheader against Conn. College and Wesleyan. After a brutally long day of travel, the Jumbos ended up splitting the meetings, defeating the Camels 7-2 but losing to the Cardinals in a tight one, 5-4.
The day began early Sunday morning as coach Jaime Kenney and her squad departed from Medford for New London, Conn. to take on Conn. College. Despite realizing it was going to be a long day, the team was excited at the prospect of facing two notable NESCAC foes.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to get some wins on the road,” senior tri-captain Mark Westerfield said. “It’s definitely tough to play two matches in one day, but we’re very prepared for it. [The doubleheader] also gives some guys a chance to play in spots they aren’t normally playing.”
One such example was sophomore Brian Tan, who was slotted at the No. 3 spot for Tufts in the singles portion of the match against Conn. College. Though Tan hasn’t had much experience playing in the top six, he easily took care of his opponent, freshman Jonathan Deeter, 6-1, 6-2.
“[Tan] has the smoothest strokes on the team,” senior tri-captain Andrew McHugh said.
Other notable singles matches included straight-set victories by No. 4 Westerfield and No. 5 junior Zach Ladwig, as well as a come-from-behind, three-set win by junior Austin Blau, who was playing at No. 2 for the Jumbos. Though Blau dropped the first set 3-6, he settled in nicely to take the next two over his sophomore opponent.
“I tried to stay as mentally stable as [possible], and [in the first set] he made me play a way I didn’t want to,” Blau said. “I was down 5-1 in the second set, but I just kept fighting until the last point was over.”
After Tufts had already swept the doubles, Blau’s singles match sealed a 7-2 victory for the Jumbos over the Camels, improving the team’s conference record to 2-2 for the time being.
Following the win, Tufts quickly made its way to Wesleyan for the second half of the NESCAC doubleheader with the players feeling strongly about their chances.
“To keep up the momentum, we’ve just got to stay focused,” Westerfield said. “It’s a long day, but we’ll need to be as dialed in for the second match as [the first], so maintaining high energy will be very important.”
After making it to Middletown with just minutes to spare, all in attendance quickly realized that this match was going to be a battle from the get-go. Though the Cardinals handily took the No. 3 doubles match 8-4 to begin the afternoon, both the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles contests came down to the wire. In the end, Tufts’ pair of senior Ben Barad and freshman Rob Jacobson managed to escape with a 9-8 (7-1) victory on court No. 1, while just minutes later No. 2 duo of Westerfield and freshman Nik Telkedzhiev fell in a heartbreaker, 8-6.
With the doubles setting the tone for the singles portion of the match, the battle only intensified as the matches wore on. After the first five contests finished, the Jumbos had managed to nod the score at four apiece with just the No. 5 match yet to be completed. All eyes were again on Blau, who this time was taking on a freshman, Wesleyan’s Zachary Brint.
Blau took the first set, 7-5, and Brint the second, 7-6 (5)-but due to lack of sunlight the match was moved inside for a dramatic third. Unfortunately for the on-looking Jumbos, Brint soon sealed the Jumbos’ fate, securing the third set, 6-3, and a team win for the Cardinals.
Though the loss snaps a 26-match winning streak for Tufts over Wesleyan, Kenney said the team has plenty to be proud of and excited about. The Jumbos will return home for a match today against Trinity, and a win will unquestionably keep Tufts in the hunt for a NESCAC tournament birth.
“It would be different if we beat ourselves, but today, we didn’t beat ourselves at all,” Kenney said. “Now that the match is over, it’s not about what happened in the past, but how we respond.”