Men’s tennis gears up for spring season with renewed fire, hunger

Sophomore Boris Sorkin swings at the ball during a match against Middlebury in the Gantcher Center on April 8, 2018. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily Archives)

After a hard-earned break that started back in October, Tufts resumes its season this Saturday with a visit to Brandeis. After a shorter fall season where preparation and anticipation for the longer spring was always in the players’ and coaches’ minds, springtime has finally arrived. With it comes stiff competition and a Jumbos squad eager to meet it with everything it’s got. Junior co-captain Ethan Bershtein highlighted the team’s mindset.

“[The] guys are hungry to get back out there,” he said.

Coach Karl Gregor also emphasized the team’s excitement in the locker room as the season rapidly approaches.

“We’re a great young team with a lot of hunger,” he said. “It will be, in some ways, a building year, but I also think there’s potential for a lot of surprising upside where we could have better results than Tufts tennis has had in many years.”

As Gregor mentioned, the roster for the upcoming season is young. Of the 16 players on the spring roster, 10 of them are first-years or sophomores. The expectations for this young group are higher after they had the full fall season to acclimate to the competitive college atmosphere, but the team is raw in some spots, particularly in doubles play where teamwork and chemistry play key roles.

“Since we have newer players, we’re usually in a deficit for doubles,” Gregor said. “We’ve worked really hard at doubles this offseason.”

However, Gregor is incredibly happy with the guys he has. This is the first time he will be working with a team recruited and hand-picked completely by him (Gregor arrived at Tufts in 2015), and he has praised the culture that has come together for the spring season.

“Everyone has really bought in,” Gregor explained.

Senior co-captain Ross Kamin talked about the youth of the squad, sharing part of his mindset as he gears up to act as a leader and mentor to some of the younger players.

“It’s going to be a new challenge,” he said. “Our young players are all great players, and I’m excited to be there to give them all that I have, all of my experience.”

The conclusion of the fall season saw sophomore Boris Sorkin clinch the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Div. III Cup to cap off a brilliant individual season. Sorkin won three tournaments during the fall season and looks to build off of his big successes and hefty contributions to the team and its youthful core.

“[Sorkin’s presence] helps us feel strong at the top, [so] that we can match up with any team’s No. 1,” Gregor said. “That’s kind of risen the level of the entire team, seeing what he’s been able to accomplish.”

For the upcoming spring season, Tufts is No. 22 in the NCAA Div. III rankings. Also ranked are several NESCAC opponents, including No. 1 Middlebury, No. 2 Bowdoin and No. 5 Williams. Gregor and the team have taken the ranking as a sort of challenge, believing themselves to be at a similar level to their top 10 NESCAC brethren. The journey towards this goal starts almost immediately with Saturday’s trip pitting them against No. 21 Brandeis. 

“Our matchup with Brandeis is a good rivalry,” Bershtein said. “We’re close to them. It’s always a competitive game. We really want to beat them.”

The NCAA rankings hint at what looks to be a competitive NESCAC season, but the feeling among the team is that Tufts is right in the thick of things. Even though Gregor hinted at the building nature of the season, there is little doubt the team can make a splash. Kamin mentioned the less desirable results from last season as a motivator for the coming spring.

“We obviously didn’t finish last season as strongly as we would have liked,” he said. “It definitely adds that extra motivation to prove to other teams that we should be [ranked] higher.”

Sorkin has the playoffs on his mind, and the feeling is shared around the locker room.

“I believe that we can rehabilitate and make NESCAC’s this year, after not qualifying for them two years in a row,” Sorkin said.

As the team gears up for the spring, a renewed hunger and sense of camaraderie acts as their fuel. The road ahead will be challenging, with a loaded NESCAC widely considered to be the best Div. III conference in the nation. The team is looking to build on its mental toughness and blaze onwards as a single, cohesive unit. Great things look to be in store for the Jumbos, and they start this Saturday with the highly anticipated road trip to Brandeis.