After coming just one win shy of a NESCAC playoff appearance last season, the men’s tennis team has dreams of a national championship moving forward. The Cardinals return all 10 players from last season, while adding four freshmen who, as a collective, were ranked as the second-best class of recruits in all of Division III men’s tennis by the Tennis Recruiting Network.
“Almost everything stands out about this team,” said Head Coach Mike Fried. “The four incoming freshmen are a game-changing kind of recruiting class. So that group, combined with some great upper-class leadership, is a really cool blend. Personnel-wise, with that group, we’re probably in a place we’ve never been before, which is really exciting.”
Last season, the Cardinals put up a 9-6 overall record and a 4-5 record in NESCAC play with one of the youngest teams in the conference. Then-freshmen Jake Roberts and Michael Liu manned the top two singles spots, while captain Sam Rudovsky ’16 finished the season at number three. Stephen Monk ’15, Michael King ’16, and Zacko Brint ’16 filled the final three singles matches respectively.
“Because of the kind of heavy weighting of underclassmen to upperclassmen, we’ll look to put a lot of emphasis on leadership from the upperclassmen,” Fried said.
The NESCAC is traditionally a Division III tennis powerhouse; Amherst won a national championship last year, while Williams and Middlebury both reached the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals finished seventh in the NESCAC and were ranked number 32 in the country at the end of the season. Wesleyan has never won a NESCAC championship in men’s or women’s tennis.
“Our program is changing pretty rapidly, and without putting the pressure of a timeline on our goal, our stated goal is to win a national championship,” Fried said. “The primary point that we discussed [in our first meeting] was that in order for that to become realistic, we have to kind of lay the foundation of training like a team that’s planning to win a national championship. That’s a huge goal of ours, to develop the culture, the mindset, and the work ethic of a team capable of winning a national championship.”
Tennis is one of the few varsity sports that has both fall and spring seasons. While the fall schedule doesn’t include matches against any NESCAC opponents, it provides a chance for the Cardinals to experiment with different combinations of lineups before league play begins in the spring.
“Fall season is more of an opportunity to kind of train together and build a foundation, camaraderie-and chemistry-wise with this team,” Fried said. “At the same time, it gets some competition. We get a feel for pairings in doubles teams, and we can test the waters a little bit. That’s mostly done in tournaments, while in the spring it’s mostly done in head-to-head matches.”
The Cardinals struggled last season in their doubles department, finishing 21-23. NESCAC dual-matches are played as a best-of-nine series, with six singles and three doubles matches, each worth one point. In contrast, the Cards thrived in singles, going 52-38.
“We’ll really take a look at where everybody is coming back from the long off-season, both as incoming freshmen and returning upperclassmen,” Fried said. “One key will be putting doubles teams together so that we can go into singles portions of matches with a lead, which was our one Achilles heel last year. I’m optimistic that we can use the fall, and use a really good group of guys to turn that around for the spring.”
The Cards kick off their season on Saturday at Fairfield University in an invitational tournament. While the exact format of the tournament was still being configured earlier this week, the Fairfield athletics website states that it will be a doubles tournament.
“I have some thoughts based on how people are coming in, and the luxury of that is that we have a lot of depth,” Fried said. “I’m just really excited to see our guys go out and compete, see some of the freshmen for the first time, and see what kind of on- and off-court leadership roles our upperclassmen are taking.”