The last few weeks have been objectively difficult for the Tufts men’s tennis team. Yet as the losses to highly ranked opponents piled up, the Jumbos refused to succumb to negativity. Speaking after the team’s 6-3 loss to No. 9 Williams on April 16, junior Rohan Gupte reflected this optimism.
“If we keep playing like we have against the top teams, I think we’ll end up winning a lot more matches,” Gupte said.
The first sign of the Jumbos’ resurgence came on Thursday, when the team recorded a crucial, 6-3 victory over the Bates Bobcats. Two days later, Tufts broke out completely, emerging victorious from its doubleheader against Hamilton and the Coast Guard Academy. Not only did the team win both matches 9-0, but it did not drop a single set all day.
“It was the only time all season that we had to play back-to-back matches, which meant, for some people, up to five [or] six hours of tennis,” senior tri-captain Kevin Kelly said. “It [was] great to overcome the physical and mental challenge.”
Tufts began play at 9 a.m., seeking to continue their rebound from the prior week’s losses at the expense of a Hamilton squad that entered the match winless in conference play. Tufts jumped out to a quick lead, sweeping the three doubles matches, with the number one tandem of Gupte and junior Zain Ali winning 8-0. The team refused to ease off the gas in singles as no Jumbo lost more than three games in any set.
Against Hamilton, Tufts rolled out a fairly typical lineup with one notable exception. Playing the first ever singles match of his college career, senior tri-captain Austin Bendetson seamlessly slid into the sixth position, cruising to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Hamilton senior Devin White. The Andover, Mass. native had the crowd — including his teammates — in a frenzy, according to first-year Jason Scanlon.
“[Austin]’s a fun guy to watch because he always has some tricks up his sleeve,” Scanlon said. “Being on the team for four years, he still [brings] that emotion and fire to every match.”
Just a few hours later, the team was back on the Gantcher Center courts for a non-conference matchup with the Coast Guard Academy. Once again, the Jumbos got off to a hot start in doubles, with coach Karl Gregor taking the opportunity to mix up his lineup. In the second doubles position, sophomore Ross Kamin and first-year Nathan Niemiec replaced the stalwart duo of first-year Zach Shaff and senior Ben Battle (the latter instead paired with Ali in number one doubles) and defeated their opponents, 8-5.
The convincing performance also allowed Tufts to enjoy some much-needed rest after an eight-day stretch in which it played five matches. The team made five changes to the singles lineup that took on Hamilton earlier in the day, as a trio of Jumbos saw their first action since mid-March. In the fifth singles, junior Justin Brogan beat sophomore Jack Phillips 6-2, 6-1, while Scanlon (6-3, 6-2) and first-year Willy Gold (7-5, 6-4) also recorded wins.
“I lost the first two points, and [my opponent] was fired up, so I had to step it up,” Scanlon said. “I was really aggressive and confident in all of my shots, [which] I can attribute to the guys on the team being behind me the whole time.”
Additionally, with victories in singles (6-1, 6-1 over junior John Hu at number two) and doubles (8-5) against the Coast Guard Academy, Niemiec finished the day with a perfect 3-0 record.
“Nathan [Niemiec] is such a professional player. The manner in which he conducts himself on the court is something that we all should try to emulate,” Kelly said. “He hits a good topspin ball on both sides, has good depth and he’s able to move his opponents around quite well.”
The two victories from Saturday improved the No. 20 Jumbos’ record to 4-4 in the NESCAC and 8-6 overall. The team closes out the regular season next weekend by visiting No. 34 Brandeis and No. 4 Bowdoin, before turning its attention to NESCAC Championships on May 5-7.
“Every year we’ve played Brandeis and Bowdoin, it’s been really tight,” Kelly said. “It usually doesn’t help to think too far ahead because every match presents its unique challenges, but [with the season] winding down, there’s a bit more of a tendency to think about [the NESCAC tournament].”
“[This weekend] was a huge shift in momentum,” Scanlon added. “We’ll have a lot more confidence going into Bowdoin and NESCACs.”
Despite the recent shift in fortune, Scanlon is adamant that the team’s attitude has, and will, remain constant.
“[It’s] not going to change. We’re going to [continue] to have a positive, optimistic mindset,” Scanlon said. “We [feel] that Bowdoin and Brandeis are very beatable teams.”