If there is one thing that this young men’s tennis team has learned, it’s that the NESCAC is one of the most challenging conferences in the nation. The Cardinals, sitting at 22nd in the country after dropping four spots from the last poll posted three weeks ago, can certainly hold their own. But when the fourth-ranked team in the nation and reigning Division III National Champion comes to your courts, pulling out five matches for a win can be a challenge. Wes got a taste of that on Sunday, April 19, in an 8-1 dismantling by its Little Three rival, Amherst’s Lord Jeffs.
Wesleyan and Amherst entered the match on opposite ends of the NESCAC standings. Wesleyan, with just one win in five tries, sits above Hamilton and Conn. College, staring up at a long list of schools. At the top, tied for first with Middlebury, is Amherst, with a record of 5-0.
Amherst jumped all over the Cards in doubles to start out the contest. Zacko Brint ’16 and Michael Liu ’17 were dispatched 5-8 at first doubles. At second doubles, the first-year duo of Win Smith and Steven Chen lost 4-8. At third doubles, Jake Roberts ’17 and Captain Sam Rudovsky ’16 also lost, 3-8. The Cardinals could not afford to drop all three doubles matches to the Purple and White.
Wes needed to steal five of the six singles matches to pull out the miracle comeback, but could only scrape together a single win. At first singles, Liu, who has been playing some inspired tennis this spring, dropped his match in straight sets, 2-6, 4-6. Chen, at the two spot, had a similar fate, unable to pull out a set, falling 1-6, 2-6.
Roberts and Dhruv Yadav ’18, at three and four, both got knocked off in straight sets as well. Smith was the lone bright spot at fifth singles. After splitting the first two sets, 4-6, 7-6, Smith stole the third in a super tiebreaker, 10-6, finally getting the Cardinals on the board. Rounding out the singles lineup was Cam Daniels ’18, who dropped both sets by a score of 2-6.
After the match, two sophomores reflected on the loss.
“Amherst has a great program with talented players,” Liu said. “This experience showed a lot of us what we needed to work on, and I’m sure that we will bounce back next week.”
Coming out on top might also require some long-term planning.
“On every court we played with them, and it was the small things that separated them,” said Greg Lyon ’17. “We have a lot to work on in the off-season if we want to compete with them next year.”
The Cards haven’t been blown out since the Bowdoin match at the end of March. Their postseason hopes are looking bleak amidst their current three-match slide.
They look to get back on track Thursday, April 23, with a much-needed non-conference match against Washington and Lee University, a squad currently ranked 32nd in the nation.
Saturday and Sunday bring in the final two regular season matches against Colby and Hamilton, respectively. Sitting at 1-5 in the NESCAC and 3-8 overall, hopes of any postseason play rests squarely on the two conference matches. Fortunately for Wesleyan, Colby and Hamilton reside in the bottom of the standings as well, one just above Wes and the other just below. The Cardinals blanked the Continentals a season ago, failing to drop a set, and defeated the Mules in a tighter match, 6-3.
As it has been said all year, this talented but young group can start stringing together wins at any point. It’ll need to start soon with the season on the line.
“We all need to go out there and play gritty tennis,” Liu said. “If we do that, I’m confident that the results will come next weekend.”