Blasting music and popping serves at 8 a.m. on Wednesday at the Voute Tennis Courts, the Tufts men’s tennis team prepares for the start of its fall season this weekend at the Middlebury Invitational. The team was supposed to start the season on Sept. 15 at the MIT Invitational, but Tufts ended up not taking part.
Under the leadership of coach Karl Gregor, the 2017–2018 Jumbos will take on both NESCAC rivals and other Div. III competitors from around New York and the New England region at Middlebury College this weekend.
Last year, the Jumbos fared well in the tournament with one player, now-junior Ethan Chen, making it as far as the finals in his flight. Several others put up respectable performances en route to the quarterfinals and semifinals of their respective brackets at last year’s Middlebury Invitational, giving the team’s veterans confidence that they can carry with them going into this year’s competition.
Within the week, members of the team will be back at Middlebury for the ITA Regionals. The ITA Regionals begin on Friday, Sept. 29 and run through the following day. The tournament is part of a broader national bracket involving 8,000 student-athletes across multiple conferences and divisions. Tufts hopes to advance through its pool and into the later rounds.
While the team’s regular season does not start until the spring in mid-March, Tufts has traditionally participated in fall tournaments like the Middlebury Invitational, ITA Regionals and MIT Invitational in October to hone players’ skills and gain valuable match experience.
Senior tri-captain Justin Brogan is embracing the fall’s opportunities in his final season.
“The fall is an excellent opportunity for all of us to improve our games, play a lot of matches and bond as a team,” Brogan told the Daily in an email. “Momentum from the fall always spills over into the spring season, so even though fall tournaments have little impact on our [team] ranking, they are hugely important.”
Brogan and fellow senior tri-captains Danny Coran and Ben Battle hope to use the fall to foster team chemistry and make the first-year players feel more at home. The team welcomes five new faces to the corps of 13 veterans: first-years Armaan Kalra, Owen Bartok, Carl-Herman Grant, Niko Hereford and Boris Sorkin.
Kalra, who will play at Middlebury this weekend, is excited for the opportunity to represent Tufts.
“The aspect that I’m looking forward to the most about playing for Tufts is finally being able to represent a team when I’m playing,” Kalra said. “Playing for a group of great guys is something that is going to be a different feeling and I know that I’ll be more inspired to perform my best. I hope that I can make an impact on the court for the team right away.”
With so many new faces, it is also refreshing for the upperclassmen to see the return of a familiar one. Nick Cary (LA ’16) is now an assistant coach to Gregor along with Christo Schultz. Cary is a veteran Jumbo and Brookline, Mass. native with a wealth of experience that promises to enrich the season for the upperclassmen and underclassmen alike.
“The return of Nick Cary, a former teammate of ours, is a major boost for our team,” Brogan said. “Nick is a talented tennis player and great leader whose passion for Tufts tennis is infectious. He brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge, and we feel very fortunate to have him on the coaching staff. He is a close friend to many of us, so his presence will make our time playing tennis all the more enjoyable.”
Coran was similarly appreciative that Cary returned to Tufts after he spent last year as a teacher outside of the Tufts tennis program.
“Coach Cary is a high energy, enthusiastic guy who has done it all himself and knows what it takes to win and compete at the Div. III level,” Coran added.
Already, the coaches have left an impact on the first-year players, who notice a clear difference between competitive play at the high school versus collegiate level.
“Though I have only been with the team for a week, I can really feel the difference in mentality of the coaches,” Bartok said. “Junior tennis and college tennis are very different, so it’s been helpful how much they emphasize the way we are supposed to approach the game mentally.”
Over the past five years, the Jumbos have generally hovered around a solid .500 winning percentage, both overall and in the NESCAC. They finished ninth in last year’s standings at 4–5 in the conference and 9–7 overall.
In 2015–16, Tufts exceeded expectations by finishing 6–3 in NESCAC and 13–7 overall, a .650 winning percentage.
That year was Cary’s senior season as a player, and he hopes to help the team replicate that degree of success again this year.
“We’ve made some really good strides as a group, and in my senior season I’m determined to leave it all on the court,” Coran said. “We’re impressed with all of the [first-years] and they fit the mold of the team really well, so I am excited to see what lies ahead.”
With a surge of young talent complemented by the veteran captains and coaches, signs are pointing upward for men’s tennis this season. Brogan, taking it all in one last time with his fellow seniors, is savoring the moment.
“Being a member of the Tufts men’s tennis team has been one of the most formative and rewarding aspects of our overall collegiate experiences,” Brogan said. “We are excited to spend one last season with some of our best friends, and help ensure that we have our most successful season yet — both on and off the court.”