The No. 13 Tufts men’s tennis ended the season with promising results. The Jumbos took down the Bowdoin Polar Bears — ranked No. 4 in the country and No. 2 in the NESCAC — in their last game of the regular season with a 5-4 win in Gantcher Center. This locked down a No. 5 seed for Tufts in the NESCAC championship tournament, hosted at Bates on May 6 to 7.
The momentum pushed Tufts to a strong showing in the opening round against national No. 11 Wesleyan, the NESCAC’s fourth seed. Though the Jumbos had their sights set on avenging an 8-1 loss to the Wesleyan Cardinals at the beginning of April, the early lead they established in the NESCAC quarterfinal slipped away, and Wesleyan triumphed again, taking the match 5-3.
The Jumbos finished the season 13-7 overall and 6-3 in conference play.
Tufts entered its final match of the season having just proved a week earlier against Bowdoin that it could take down higher conference seeds in the highly competitive NESCAC.
“We started off well,” Ali said. “We went up 2-1 after doubles. Even before the match, we knew although we lost 8-1 earlier in the season, that 8-1 didn’t really mean much because we’ve beaten teams that had beaten Wesleyan.”
The top two pairs for Tufts — graduating senior tri-captain Nick Cary and rising junior Rohan Gupte at No. 1, as well as graduating senior tri-captain Rob Jacobson and classmate Jay Glickman at No. 2 — got the job done with two 8-5 wins to start the match strong. Rising sophomore Joachim Samson and graduating senior co-captain Sam Rudovsky of Wesleyan managed to pull out a win in No. 3 doubles over rising juniors Zain Ali and Griffin Brockman to avoid a Tufts sweep of doubles.
“We knew coming into the match that Wesleyan is a very good team, and that in order to give ourselves a chance to win, we needed to come out and play strong doubles,” Jacobson told the Daily in an email. “Jay and I played an inspired match — we both knew that the stakes were incredibly high and were determined to win what we knew could potentially be our last doubles match.”
The tides started to turn, though, when singles matches came around. At No. 1, Glickman fell to rising junior Steven Chen, the No. 14 singles player in the country, 6-3, 6-4. Gupte was able to reclaim the Tufts lead at 3-2 with a 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 2 singles over rising senior Michael Liu. From there, though, Wesleyan swept the rest of the singles matches and put Tufts away.
“All season our singles has been very strong and usually if we go down in doubles, we pick it up in singles,” Ali said. “But against Wesleyan we were only able to pick up one match on the singles courts.”
Despite the setback, the Tufts showing against Wesleyan — and against the higher seeds in not only the NESCAC but in the country — is a testament to the team’s progress.
“From the beginning of the season, we all had high goals,” Ali said. “We all wanted to have our ranking move up, we all wanted to beat the top teams and we all wanted to beat teams that we lost to last year, maybe teams that we had never beaten. And we did that.”
In the first half of the season over the fall semester, the Jumbos focused on individual and tournament play to prepare for the spring competition. They took home various individual and doubles pair titles in invitational tournaments and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Regional Championships. They also hosted the Boston Invitational, a round-robin tournament for singles and doubles.
The meat of the Jumbos’ season started over spring break when the team made its annual trip to California, posting a 5-2 record. In April, Tufts played a tough schedule against opponents in the New England region. Among definitive wins against teams like Conn. College (8-1) and Trinity (8-1), Tufts also faced adversity against national powerhouses, losing to No. 3 Middlebury (7-2) and No. 9 Williams (7-2).
In addition to the Bowdoin win, Tufts’ April 2 win over No. 14 Amherst was the highlight of the season. The Jumbos had not beaten the Purple and White since 2004.
“The senior class came together as five strong leaders with a common goal to lead the team to the highest level,” Jacobson said. “As a result, we accomplished more this season than any other season in reaching No. 13 in the rankings and gaining our first top five win over Bowdoin. Every victory along the way was a total team effort.”
With little change to the roster from last year, the Jumbos have stepped up this year as a full unit and put in the work to improve their play and national ranking.
“Coach [Karl] Gregor has exceeded all expectations in creating a culture of excellence, turning around this program in just two seasons, where his players don’t only expect to win, but have put in the requisite hard work to succeed at the highest level,” Jacobson said.
Ali believes the team’s consistent improvements are indicative of bigger things to come and is confident the Jumbos can win a national title in the near future.
“We became one big family, and we all really know that we have an opportunity here at Tufts to do something big or do something that hasn’t been done for the program in a while,” Ali said.
The team will undoubtedly look different next year with the exit of five seniors who have all made substantial contributions — Jacobson, Glickman, Cary, Nik Telkedzhiev and Roy Peleg. The culture change that this year’s seniors were part of creating, however, has established strong roots for the team.
“When we started four years ago, the team was excited just to win a point or two against a team like Bowdoin or Amherst,” Jacobson said. “Now, the team not only believes we can win but expects to win.”