The opening of the fall season is quickly approaching for the men’s tennis team, which will travel to Vermont on Saturday for its first meet, the Middlebury Invitational.
This competition will be the first for the team since April 29 when, despite the best efforts of then-juniors Rohan Gupte and Zain Ali, Tufts suffered a tense 5–4 loss against Bowdoin. This defeat to the eventual national semi-finalists ended the Jumbos‘ spring campaign, as they finished with a 9–7 record.
Gupte and Ali both recorded victories in that matchup, ending their junior seasons on a high note. They are now members of a senior class that includes tri-captain Justin Brogan. Brogan had high praise for Gupte and Ali, even referring to the pair as “two of the best players in Tufts tennis history.”
The Falmouth, Maine native also spoke about the importance of the upcoming fall season to player development, since does team wins and losses are not recorded like in the spring.
“Our intention is to use the fall season for all of us to improve, for both singles and doubles,” Brogan said. “We’re also really excited with the [four first-years] we have coming in. We think they’ll really round out our lineup, and they’ll be joined by some excellent returners.”
Brogan noted that although tennis is an individual sport, there are several ways that team members come together to support each other and build camaraderie.
“Tennis is hard because it’s very individualistic,” he said. “The things that bring us together are the small things like eating together, hanging out, but also traveling together to tournaments and cheering each other on. That really starts in the fall and carries over to the spring. By the time spring comes around, we want to be one unified front.”
Brogan will be sharing the tri-captain title with seniors Danny Coran and Ben Battle. Battle is a “super senior,” having been granted an extra year of athletic eligibility after tearing his ACL. As the most experienced player on the team, Battle wants to continue to set an example and be a mentor for the younger Jumbos.
“I think every year that a person spends on the team, they get more used to the rules and culture of the team,” Battle said. “Any upperclassman has a big responsibility to ease [the first-years] in and make them feel welcome. Everything we do is a team effort, including acclimating the younger guys.”
The Delray Beach, Fla. native, as well as his fellow captains and upperclassmen — including seniors Griffin Brockman and Jack Friend — will be tasked with taking the class of 2021 of Tufts tennis under their collective wings.
“We have four official [first-years] this year, and we’re definitely excited about all of them,” Battle said. “They’re fitting in very well; they’re right in the mix. All four of them passed our fitness test on the first day of practice, so that just speaks to their dedication and their drive.”
In last year’s iteration of the Middlebury Invitational, nine Tufts players combined to win a total of 14 matches. Among those Jumbos were Coran and now-juniors Ethan Chen and Ross Kamin, just a few of the players who will be looking to build and improve on their performances.
At the end of the spring season, the Jumbos were ranked as the 17th best team in Div. III men’s tennis. According to Battle, the team is eager to take a step up in the national rankings.
“Our goal is definitely to try and break into the top 10,” he said. “We’ve been flirting with the 11–15 range in the past few years. I think that we’ll have a lot of seniors contributing this year, so we should be able to make a push and crack the single-digit rankings. I think it would be a big step for the program as a whole.”
In this regard, the NESCAC’s status as a men’s tennis gauntlet is both a blessing and a curse. Of the 16 teams above Tufts at year’s end, five were NESCAC members, including third-ranked Middlebury, fourth-ranked Bowdoin and fifth-ranked Wesleyan. Indeed, three of the past five Div. III national championships have gone to members of the NESCAC. While the Jumbos’ bruising conference schedule deflates their overall win-loss record — last spring, for example, they went 4-5 against NESCAC squads while winning five of their seven out-of-conference matches — the pedigree of Tufts’ regular opponents provides the team numerous chances for improvement through trial-by-fire.
The Middlebury Invitational will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday and last through Sunday. Two weeks later, the team will return to Middlebury for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Regional Championships.
Sam Weitzman contributed reporting to this article.