The No. 18 Tufts Jumbos (5–7, 1–4 NESCAC) suffered their second straight 5–4 loss in the final set to No. 10 Williams on April 7 after falling to No. 5 Wesleyan by the same score the week prior. Tufts bounced back on Wednesday, April 10 by downing Trinity 9–0 before losing to No. 8 Middlebury 6–3 on Saturday.
The Jumbos kicked off the match against Middlebury by sweeping doubles play to surge to a 3–0 lead. Sophomore Niko Hereford and junior co-captain Ethan Bershtein were first on the scoreboard after closing out Middlebury junior Alekandr Samets and sophomore Andre Xiao at No. 3 doubles, 8–3. Then at No. 2 doubles, the sophomore duo of Carl-Herman “CHG” Grant and Boris Sorkin continued to build on the Jumbos’ momentum by defeating Lubomir Cuba and Nate Eazor, 8–6.
The Middlebury Panthers were sinking their teeth into a win of their own as Noah Farrell and Peter Martin stepped up to serve for the match at 7–6 in No. 2 doubles. But sophomore Jason Scanlon and first-year Paris Pentousis dug deep to break back and emerge victorious, 8–6.
Scanlon noted the importance in making returns of serve to come back for the victory.
“At 7–6, they broke my serve, and Peter Martin was serving for the match.” Scanlon said. “He had the stronger serve among the two players. It was all about making the return and making them play the point.”
Scanlon made his debut in the starting lineup this season against Trinity and Middlebury. The Barrington, R.I. native emphasized the importance of fundamentals and team spirit.
“Playing Trinity before Middlebury was key,” Scanlon said. “Getting a good doubles match in helped settled my nerves a little bit. It was me and Paris’ first time playing together, but we really came together that day. We really wanted the win, and that was the energy across all three courts in doubles. The keys to our victory were keeping our shots simple, making them earn it, and implementing things we do in practice every day.”
Despite playing extraordinarily in doubles, the Jumbos suffered a tough loss to Middlebury after losing all six singles matches, with two of the contests stretching to three sets.
Coach Karl Gregor stressed how the team would have benefitted from greater urgency to build upon their 3–0 lead.
“Unfortunately, Middlebury played really well in all six singles matches, which is pretty rare,” Gregor said. “There wasn’t much we could’ve done, but we could’ve had more urgency to push hard early in singles to get a match or a few more sets. If you’re up 4–0 vs. 3–0, the lead seems insurmountable. You never know who’s going to win at which position, so you can’t expect people pick up the slack. We can play with more urgency.”
Although Tufts has endured several tough losses against higher ranked NESCAC opponents, including Wesleyan and No. 7 Amherst, Gregor is optimistic heading into the latter half of the season.
“I don’t feel like it’s gotten them down,” said Gregor. “If we beat Colby and Bates and get to the NESCAC tournament, we get one more shot at all of these teams. If we’re able to get everyone peaking by early May, we can win not only one but take down a few teams and get an outside shot to even win NESCACs.”
Scanlon added to the positive sentiment.
“Going up 3–0 against Middlebury was pretty amazing,” Scanlon said. “It made us feel like we belonged with them and could beat the No. 2 [now No. 8] team in the country. It changed our perspective in the way we perceive ourselves. In singles, everyone fought on every court, and it didn’t reflect our performance as a team. We know we can compete with the best of the best.”
On April 10 against Trinity, the Jumbos blanked the Bantams 9–0. Players like Sorkin, Kamin and Shaff made quick work of unranked Trinity. First-year Jack Moldenhauer clinched the win for Tufts at No. 5 singles, beating Trinity’s Charles Kilborn 6–1, 6–0.
On April 7, Tufts displayed a valiant effort against No. 10 Williams, coming back from a 3–0 deficit out of doubles play to level the match at 4–4. Sorkin, Pentousis, first-year Isaac Gorelik and first-year Jack Moldenhauer all notched impressive victories in straight sets. But Tufts fell just short as junior Ben Biswas fell in the final set, 5–7, 6–3, 6–3. Though the match ended in a loss for Tufts, it was another display of the Jumbos’ potential to compete among the top 10 teams in the country.
On Saturday, the Jumbos are back in action in a doubleheader at home on the Voute Tennis Courts against Connecticut College and No. 32 MIT. Tufts will then face off against Colby on the road on Sunday in another key NESCAC matchup.
The Jumbos will be the higher ranked team heading into their series of matches this weekend, but Scanlon detailed the importance of never underestimating an opponent.
“We treat every match the same, no matter what team,” Scanlon said. “We’ll be hungry for a win. We’re going to learn from these past three matches. We’re going to fight hard on every single court and don’t let up. We’re going to treat every match like were playing a Middlebury — [like] we are the underdogs.”