Men’s tennis gains momentum during trip to California

Sophomore Owen Bartok prepares to return a shot in a game against Bowdoin at the Voute Tennis Courts on April 28, 2018. (Ben Kim /The Tufts Daily Archives)

Despite struggling in their opening matches of the season, the No. 22 Jumbos (4–3) tallied several key victories over their spring break trip to California. Tufts defeated No. 28 George Fox 7–2 on Friday and squeezed past No. 34 Redlands 5–4 on Saturday to close out their trip with two wins. The Jumbos also took down No. 12 Sewanee (6–3) and No. 24 Denison (8–1), while falling to No. 29 Caltech (3–6) and No. 14 Pomona-Pitzer (2–7). Reflecting back on the trip, coach Karl Gregor expressed his confidence in the team for this season.

“We finished strong,” Gregor said. “The start was a little choppy with outdoor tennis and still some early jitters. We really haven’t played particularly well as a team though we’ve had individuals play well. We have guys that lack a little confidence, but if they can get there in the next month, we’ll be in a really good spot.”

Gregor also added how the skill set in Div. III men’s tennis is unusually uniform this year.

“Unlike most years where there’s a few dominant teams, there’s no real standout [team] this year and everyone’s beating everyone,” Gregor said. “We can beat those top 10 teams and even get an outside shot at NCAAs if we upset two higher-ranked NESCAC teams.”

Redlands registered the first point on the scoreboard at No. 3 doubles on Saturday. The Tufts team of sophomore Niko Hereford and senior co-captain Ross Kamin lost to senior Chase Lipscomb and junior Andrew Leahy, Redlands’ top two singles players, 8–0.

Yet the Jumbos continued to display their impressive form in doubles as sophomore Carl-Herman Grant and junior Zach Shaff broke past first-years Andrew Yip and Thomas Reznik 8–5 to level the score at 1–1. The duo of sophomore Boris Sorkin and junior Nathan Niemiec closed out an 8–3 victory over junior Brad Cummins and sophomore Brysl Libao to earn the Jumbos a key 2–1 lead heading out of doubles.

The Redlands Bulldogs quickly bit back as Lipscomb took down Sorkin in straight sets at No. 1 singles, 6–1, 6–3. Sorkin, the No. 1 ranked player in Div. IIIhas been a powerhouse at the top of the lineup for the Jumbos this season, and this marked just his second loss in singles of the season.

At No. 3 singles, Tufts regained a 3–2 lead as first-year Isaac Gorelik fought through a tight first set before downing Reznik, 7–5, 6–2. The back-and-forth affair continued as Redlands leveled the score yet again at No. 5 singles where Libao defeated Grant, 6–2, 6–4.

Still, the Jumbos later managed to tally another key victory at No. 6 singles when sophomore Owen Bartok swept past Yip in straight sets, 6–4, 6–1.

With Tufts leading 4–3, all eyes were locked on the matches at No. 2 and No. 4 singles as a win in either would seal the win for the Jumbos. The pressure built as both contests went the distance to a decisive third set.

At No. 2 singles, the 6’9” first-year Paris Pentousis, a native of Thessaloniki, Greece, dug deep to clinch the match for Tufts after dropping the second set, 6–2, 4–6, 6–3.

“Being the clincher for the team felt great,” Pentousis said. “From the second set, I knew that I would have to play better as I felt my opponent coming back … Even though I tried to adjust my game and play on a higher level, I was not able to at first. [But] I went into the third set strong [and] feeling confident that I would win.”

Despite losing their first two matches of the season to Brandeis and Caltech, Tufts bounced back in its third match of their spring break trip with a 6–3 upset victory over Sewanee on March 17. Among several highly competitive doubles matches, Pentousis and Bartok defeated the junior duo of Jordan Brewer and Hayden Loeb in a tight tiebreaker 8–7, 7–4.

The Jumbos also displayed resilience in singles; junior Ben Biswas battled back from a set down to defeat first-year Brandon Kali, 4–6, 6–1, 6–1.

Although Tufts heads into this season with a relatively young roster, the team has had plenty of opportunities to develop toughness over their series of matches throughout the trip.

“We are training hard,” Pentousis said. “Everybody feels very confident about their game after finishing spring break with six matches. We have learned a lot and hope to use that to win against Amherst and Wesleyan this weekend.”

Gregor also noted the importance of recovery after returning from a long stretch of competitive play in California and the advantage of coming in as the underdogs.

“We need to make sure everyone’s healthy after a long week, and [we] got to get re-acclimated to outdoor New England tennis,” Gregor said. “To win we need to be consistently good with all the little things. We lose [when] our guys go for too much [and commit unforced errors].”

Coming off of back-to-back wins over George Fox and Redlands, Tufts looks forward to its first conference match-ups against NESCAC rivals, squaring off at No. 7 Amherst on Saturday and at home against No. 8 Wesleyan on Sunday.

“[Amherst and Wesleyan] are both good,” Gregor said. “We’ll be the underdogs going in with a little less pressure.”