Tufts to hit the courts on Saturday for season opener against MIT

Sophomore Zach Shaff lines up a shot at the MIT Invitational Oct. 15, 2017. Angelie Xiong / The Tufts Daily Archives

The No. 17 Tufts men’s tennis team kicks off its 2018 season with an away match at No. 21 MIT on Saturday afternoon. After a rigorous but promising preseason campaign, the Jumbos are confident heading into their spring schedule.

After ending their 2016–17 season with a final record of 9–7, the Jumbos are looking to refine their skills and improve even more as a team. Senior co-captains Ben Battle, Justin Brogan and Danny Coran have played an instrumental role in this growth; the trio has been working hard over the past few weeks to bring the team together and prepare for a rewarding season.

“The three of us [have] a really good mix of leadership, personality and style,” Coran said. “We’re all very happy with how the team progressed in the offseason. We’re looking forward to the season, and we’re confident that we can accomplish something special with this group.”

Tufts added five new first-years to its roster this season: Owen Bartok, Carl-Herman Grant, Niko Hereford, Armaan Kalra and Boris Sorkin. All five players have made an impact on the program already, having competed in a number of tournaments throughout the fall, and their teammates and coaches are excited to see how they perform in their first spring season.

“They are a very hardworking, disciplined group of guys, especially for being first-years,” Coran said. “They’re solid players who we know will be strong contributors throughout this season in both singles and doubles.”

With the Jumbos having lost some key players from last year’s squad, one might expect them to be apprehensive going into the first match this weekend. The players are confident in their new teammates’ abilities, though, as well as in the team’s overall skill.

“The departure of [senior] Griffin Brockman forced us to reorganize our doubles lineup,” Coran said. “However, we believe we will be just as strong, if not stronger, on the doubles court this season.”

The Jumbos also praise their coach, Karl Gregor, for his direction and influence on their performance thus far.

“Karl is a really strong and passionate coach,” Coran said. “He is very dedicated to the Tufts tennis program. We have a close relationship, and he’s been instrumental in developing parts of my game.”

The team enters the new season with a chip on its shoulder, a reminder of last year’s disappointing conclusion. The Jumbos went into the final day of the regular season riding a four-match winning streak, which included a win over then-No. 19 Brandeis, and playing their best tennis of the year. However, Tufts fell to then-No. 7 Bowdoin in a 5–4 heartbreaker. While the team finished the season ranked 17th in the country, it missed the postseason for the first time in Gregor’s tenure as head coach due to the NESCAC tournament’s selection criteria, which weigh head-to-head results over overall record. For Coran, the Jumbos’ unfinished business is personal.

“I’m really looking forward to playing Bowdoin at home during Spring Fling,” the Milwaukee native said. “Last year, I was playing Bowdoin away, and it came down to my match. I ended up losing in three sets, which was a heartbreaking loss for my team. I am looking forward to getting some revenge this year.”

After its match at MIT (which will be played indoors due to snow), Tufts will travel to Tempe, Ariz. to compete against a familiar opponent, Conn. College, at Arizona State University. In their last meeting, on April 7, 2016, the Jumbos defeated the Camels by a score of 8–1. Following the match against Conn. College, Tufts will head to Claremont, Calif., where it will play No. 23 Sewanee.

“Each year, the team takes a trip to the West Coast to compete in our first regular-season matches,” Coran said. “We always play against some really strong competition. This year, in addition to L.A., we will be playing in Phoenix, which should better prepare us for Sewanee.”

With last year’s disappointment in mind, the team has trained its eyes on a set of material objectives, according to Coran.

“The first thing we have to focus on is making the NESCAC tournament,” Coran said. “After that, our ultimate goal is to make the NCAA tournament. I think we have the tools to make a run this year.”