Tufts extends unbeaten start to season before falling to No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps

The No. 17 Tufts men’s tennis team continued its strong start to the season over spring break, recording a 3–1 record during its week-long trip to the West Coast. Tufts triumphed over Connecticut College (7–2), Sewanee (5–4) and Whittier (7–2). After a three-match win streak to open the trip, the Jumbos fell 7–2 to the No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags on Saturday.

Sophomore Jason Scanlon stressed that the lopsided scoreline against Claremont failed to capture the competitiveness of the match.

“The score definitely didn’t reflect how the match transpired,” he said. “We showed a lot of toughness, fight and grit. We knew that we had the firepower, talent and experience to beat a team like Claremont, but it just wasn’t our day.”

Junior captain Julian Gordy and sophomore Nikolai Parodi registered the opening point for host Claremont, beating Tufts’ senior duo of Rohan Gupte and Zain Ali, 8–5, in No. 1 doubles. However, Tufts fired back in second doubles, with sophomore Nathan Niemiec and first-year Carl-Herman Grant dispatching sophomore Oscar Burney and first-year Jack Katzmann, 8–5.

However, the Stags won the final doubles match and five of the six singles matches to seal the victory. Nonetheless, Tufts went the distance in several matches, pushing the hosts to three sets. In No. 1 singles, Gupte lost a tight battle to Parodi, last year’s Div. III runner-up, 3–6, 6–4, 6–3. Grant also got off to a strong start in the fifth spot before ultimately falling to sophomore Daniel Park 4–6, 6–1, 6–0. In second singles, Ali lost to Katzman in two sets (6–4, 6–3), while first-year Boris Sorkin claimed the lone singles victory for the Jumbos in the third spot, edging Burney in a third-set tiebreaker: 4–6, 6–4, 10–8.

Despite the loss, Tufts senior co-captain Ben Battle was pleased with the result.

“It definitely gives us a lot of confidence, since they are the first top-ten team we’ve played this year,” Battle said. “Wesleyan and Amherst both lost 9–0 to [Claremont-Mudd-Scripps]. Just getting two points and doing better than our tight rivals says we’re right there, if not a little above the teams we want to beat.”

One of the factors that played a role in the Jumbos’ promising performance against the Stags was their lighter-than-usual schedule over the break.

“Normally, we play five matches [over spring break], but we only played four matches this year,” Battle said. “We’ve had difficulty before with fatigue, but we came out firing on all cylinders and didn’t have a let-down in energy.”

Tufts coach Karl Gregor also felt the team could draw many positives from the match.

“It was a match that was within reach — we had the talent,” Gregor said. “A big part of it is mentally knowing that we do belong in that league, that we are right there with the top ten teams in the country [and] that we do belong in that upper echelon.”

Gregor framed the loss as a lesson from which the Jumbos can learn and build, specifically highlighting doubles as a potential area for improvement.

“Our doubles teams can get more aggressive,” he said. “They should know our plan and commit to it more. Sometimes they get tight in high-pressure situations. [Claremont-Mudd-Scripps] is a more seasoned team — they played four top-ten teams, while we’ve played one. We need to get more match-tough and try to be a little more relentless, never let up.”

Tufts took on Whittier on March 20, winning two of three doubles matches, as well as five of the six singles matches, for its fourth straight win to begin the season. Gupte blitzed through senior Agustin Lombardi in straight sets in No. 1 singles (6–0, 6–2), while first-year Armaan Kalra defeated Whittier sophomore Sam Whitehill 6–1, 6–2 in the sixth spot. In No. 5 singles, Niemiec lost just one game in dishing out a bagel and breadstick to first-year Matt Yanuck with a 6–0, 6–1 victory. 

While the Jumbos’ sole loss in singles proved harmless against the Poets, it will be very costly going forward. With the score 2–2 in the first set, Battle was forced to retire from second singles with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The fifth-year senior from Delray Beach, Fla. also tore his ACL during his junior season.

Two days prior, Tufts battled through a close contest against No. 23 Sewanee. The Jumbos took an early 2–1 lead in the doubles matches, as Battle and Grant edged sophomores Andres Carro and Jordan Brewer, 9–7, in the No. 2 spot. Ali (6–3, 1–6, 6–2) and Sorkin (6–3, 6–2) secured victories in second and third singles, respectively, but Sewanee responded by winning in the first, fourth and fifth positions.

With the match knotted at 4–4, sophomore Ben Biswas clinched the victory for the Jumbos in a thrilling 6–4, 2–6, 6–1 victory over senior Davis Owen in No. 6 singles.

The March 17 match against Conn. College was more decisive, as Tufts pulled away for a comfortable 7–2 win. The Jumbos swept all three of the doubles matches from their NESCAC rivals, including an 8–0 victory by Sorkin and sophomore Ethan Bershtein over junior Johnny Cissel and senior Patrick Farrell 8–0 in No. 3 doubles.

In singles, the Camels registered a pair of three-set victories in the second and third spots, as Biswas was bested by William Cannon (2–6, 7–5, 10–6) and sophomore Zach Shaff fell to first-year Henry DeCoster (6–4, 5–7, 10–5). Tufts displayed its depth, however, taking the fourth, fifth and sixth singles matches to secure the win. Senior co-captain Danny Coran, playing at No. 1 singles, also registered a victory (6–0, 6–1).

Scanlon detailed how the team’s time together off the court during the trip brought it closer together.

“It was really important for our team morale and chemistry,” Scanlon said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together this season, but it’s mostly been practices and dinners. Spending a week living in a beautiful, warm place like California really brought everyone together and will really have a positive impact both on and off the court.”

Overall, Gregor was pleased with the team’s results and looks forward to the season ahead.

“There were really good performances from everyone,” he said. “We’re hungry to go up against the NESCAC.”

Tufts (4–1) will be back in action on April 7 with a doubleheader, as the team will host Vassar (5–7) in the morning before traveling to Babson (5–1) in the afternoon. The Jumbos return to Medford the following day to take on the No. 4 Middlebury Panthers (7–1).