In their opening home game, the No. 17 Tufts Jumbos (4–5, 0–2 NESCAC) displayed their most impressive form of the season on Sunday against the No. 7 Wesleyan Cardinals (9–2, 2–1 NESCAC). Tufts pushed Wesleyan to the brink in a marathon match: It started at 10 a.m. outdoors, and finished after seven hours indoors. Tufts ultimately suffered a painful 5–4 loss in the final set. The Jumbos also fought valiantly the previous day in their 6–3 loss against the No. 9 Amherst Mammoths, where two of their losses came in close three-set matches.
Despite just missing out on a key upset, junior co-captain Ethan Bershtein remained optimistic following the loss to the Cardinals.
“As expected, we were all pretty bummed out,” Bershtein said. “But those were teams that kind of killed us last year, and we had a strong class [that year]. We thought this season would be a rebuilding year, but to see we are literally right there with the top teams in the NESCAC, top teams in the country, has actually kind of invigorated us.”
Outside, on the Voute Tennis Courts, Tufts’ impressive doubles play nearly propelled them to a 3–0 lead.
“We really placed a heavy focus on doubles in the offseason,” Bershtein said. “I feel it’s the first time I’ve been here where we can confidently win [against] every team at every spot in doubles.”
Sophomore Carl-Herman Grant and junior Zach Shaff edged past sophomore Ali Mooraj and junior Princeton Carter by two points in an extended tiebreaker, 8–7 (9–7). Then, the duo of sophomore Niko Hereford and Bershtein tallied another point on the scoreboard for Tufts with a 8–4 victory over the sophomore pair of Zach Fleischman and Andrew Finkelman.
At No. 1 doubles, sophomore Boris Sorkin and junior Nathan Niemiec earned a handful of match points when up 7–6, 40–15 against sophomore Adrian Roji and first-year Noah Lilienthal, but the Jumbos eventually fell in a crushing loss by just two points in yet another tiebreaker 8–7 (7–5).
After the Jumbos established a 2–1 lead out of doubles play, the match was moved indoors to the Hirsch Tennis Center due to high winds and rain. At No. 3 singles, first-year Isaac Gorelik continued his streak of impressive form by sealing his fifth straight match. Gorelik struck the ball aggressively off both wings and attacked Roji’s one-handed backhand to get the win, 6–3, 6–4.
Yet the Wesleyan Cardinals responded with a win of their own at No. 4 singles, as Grant lost in a tricky matchup against Lilienthal in two tight sets, 7–5, 7–6 (8–6). Grant demonstrated skill both offensively and defensively, as he both attacked the net and slid behind the baseline to retrieve every ball. Still, Lilienthal struck with pace with his lefty forehand and one-handed backhand and just squeezed by the Oslo, Norway native.
At No. 1 singles, Sorkin, the No. 1 player ranked in Div. III, came in clutch to break back in the first set after being down 4–5. Sorkin and his opponent exchanged long, grueling rallies, but Sorkin was able to capitalize on his passing shots and consistently develop the point with his forehand to win, 7–6 (7–4), 6–2.
First-year Paris Pentousis rallied back from a set down against first-year Peter Anker at No. 2 singles, delivering punishing, flat groundstrokes especially off the forehand wing. However, Anker fought hard and ripped several forehand winners of his own and earned Wesleyan another victory, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3.
Tufts led 4–3, as No. 5 and No. 6 singles both went to a third set. Anticipation grew as victory in either match would have clinched the match for the Jumbos. Niemiec played aggressively to come back from a 6–0 first set deficit and push his opponent sliding past the baseline at No. 5 singles, but the Scottsdale, Ariz. native ultimately fell 6–0, 3–6, 6–1.
With the match even at 4–4, all eyes were on the last remaining match at No. 6 singles as total match time stretched past the seven hour mark. First-year Jack Moldenhauer hit heavy groundstrokes and attempted to control the points with his forehand. Despite the enormous effort in coming back from down 5–2 to win the first set in a tiebreaker 7–6 (4), Lieb came back and closed out the match 6–7 (4), 6–3, 6–2 to clinch the match for Wesleyan.
The previous day against Amherst included highlights like Sorkin’s 6–3, 6–4 win over sophomore Sean Wei at No. 1 singles and Gorelik’s 7–5, 6–4 victory against junior Jayson Fung. Pentousis also fought hard to win the second set before falling in a third set tiebreaker to sophomore Kevin Ma at No. 2 singles, who is currently ranked No. 25 in Div. III.
After demonstrating their potential this weekend against some of the top teams in the country, Bershtein emphasized the thin line between the Jumbos and the upper echelon can be transcended through confidence and execution.
“We have the talent,” Bershtein said. “We need to believe in ourselves. Once we believe in ourselves we can do it, the other [wins] will come easier. The key for this week especially is to keep doing what we’re doing and get over the hump. We really need to attack it. Every weekend is an opportunity to prove ourselves.”
The Jumbos are back on the court at home against another top-10 team in No. 6 Williams on Sunday, April 7, and against Trinity on Wednesday, April 10.