With the campus’ outdoor courts obscured by two feet of snow, it seems fitting that the 2015 men’s tennis season should begin across the country in sunny Orange County, Cali., this coming weekend. The team will compete in the prestigious Stag-Hen Invitational by virtue of strong performances from all its members during the fall season, playing four tough matches over the course of seven days.
“We’re very grateful to be participating in such a high-level tournament,” said Michael Liu ’17, who comes into the spring season ranked 19th nationally. “It’ll be a perfect platform for us to showcase how hard we’ve been working this off-season.”
Ranked within the nation’s top 20 teams by Division III Tennis’ season-opening power rankings for the first time in team history, the Cardinals are certainly anticipating a special season.
“I think I speak for all of us when I say I am very excited for this season and for the team,” said Jake Roberts ’17. “We have a really good group of guys that also happen to be great tennis players. Although we are a young team, we are only going to get better, and I believe we have a legitimate shot at making a real impact in the ’CAC and Division III tennis in general. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish.”
Although upperclassmen account for just four of the team’s 12 members, the Cardinals still believe they have sufficient talent and experience on their side to match the best of NESCAC. Indeed, the addition of four new members has contributed significantly to the squad’s high hopes for the upcoming season. San Diego native Stephen Chen ’18 shone throughout the fall season, placing second in the New England ITA Regional Tournament and advancing to ITA Nationals in South Carolina where he finished in third place. His play would also earn a ranking of fifth nationally among all Division III players. Newcomers Dhruv Yadav ’18, Cam Daniels ’18, and Win Smith ’18 also recorded impressive performances.
“We have a really young team, and a lot of fresh faces that are coming in as part of the recent growing trend of more and more higher ranked junior tennis players that decide to compete at Division III colleges,” Chen said. “It’ll be interesting to see how these successful junior players will stack up with the older and experienced Division III players at other schools. With this being said, I don’t think we have any expectations besides going out and competing hard and trying our best.”
Following their trip to California, the Cardinals will face their first conference test when they travel to Maine to play Bowdoin and Bates. While Wesleyan finished the 2014 season 4-5 when facing NESCAC opponents, the players feel confident the team now possesses both the raw talent and will to win necessary to reach postseason play. This would be no small feat given the incredibly high level of competition within the NESCAC conference. Indeed, the NCAA has ranked Amherst, Middlebury, and Williams all within the nation’s top 10 teams to begin the spring season. Yet despite these odds, the Cardinals remain optimistic.
“We have the most talented team Wesleyan has ever had, with incredible depth up and down the lineup,” said Cameron Hicks ’17. “We all have very high goals for ourselves and for the team, and we’re working hard to make sure these goals are realized. Postseason play is a very realistic goal, but nothing is given, and we’re going to have to earn every bit of it.”
Experience and talent aside, Head Coach Mike Fried believes the team’s ultimate goal remains to represent the university to the best of its abilities.
“We’re excited for the upcoming season and the opportunity to go up against the best teams in the country right out of the gate,” Fried said. “We’ve got a great blend of upperclassmen and freshmen talent; everyone has been working extremely hard and is doing a great job balancing their studies with their training. Our goal for the season is to put it all together, come together as a team and represent Wesleyan the best we can every time we step on the court.”
The Cardinals’ home opener at John Wood Memorial Tennis Courts will take place on March 22, when they will take on Brandeis College.