When The Argus talked to Cam Hicks ’17 this fall, he made it clear that men’s tennis was out for blood by calling the 2017 season a “revenge tour.”
“Shout out to the teams we lost close matches to: we’re coming for you,” Hicks said in September.
The team’s defeat at the hands of eventual conference champion Middlebury in last spring’s NESCAC semifinals is the most obvious, and perhaps the most painful, of the losses that Hicks referenced. After landing on the wrong side of a tight 5-4 contest in March, Wesleyan had a chance to upset the top-ranked Panthers, but All-American Steven Chen ’18 (No. 1 singles) fell in the third set of what would’ve been a season-defining win over former DIII singles champion Noah Farrell, sealing a 5-2 loss.
Hicks also certainly hopes to avenge the 5-4 loss to Bowdoin, who topped Middlebury in the finals of the DIII Championship. These two teams represent early NESCAC favorites, and strong contenders for a National Championship. Bowdoin (No. 3) and Middlebury (No. 4) are the only NESCAC schools ranked above Wesleyan (No. 10).
The Red and Black’s 2017 campaign was kicked off by a spring break trip to California, where the team suited up against No. 2 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, No. 26 Skidmore College, No. 11 Case Western Reserve University, and No. 8 University of Redlands. After an inauspicious defeat against CMS, the Cardinals posted fairly convincing wins against their remaining opponents to exit California in the black. They then returned to Connecticut and slipped past DI Quinnipiac University 4-3, keyed by a big day from Tiago Eusebio ’18 at No. 2 doubles and No. 3 singles.
“We thought that the trip was a great experience because it exposed us to the top tier DIII teams,” said captain Mike Liu ’17. “It also tested us mentally because we had to deal with playing in unfamiliar conditions for extended periods of time.”
Juniors Eusebio and Win Smith have starred as a doubles team, recording a scorching 5-0 start to the season. Their wild success vaults them into early consideration for an individual bid to Nationals, though they may be hampered by their slightly weaker schedule at No. 2 doubles. At one and two singles, Chen and Liu have cemented their status as one of the top DIII singles pairings by starting a cumulative 6-4 against high-level competition.
Princeton Carter ’20 quickly played his way into the lineup as a rookie, earning his first career start in the season’s second match against Skidmore. He has excelled while bouncing between No. 5 and 6 singles on his way to a 3-1 record. Early career highlights include a pivotal three-set win over Redlands’ No. 5, and a win over Case Western in which he overcame serious equipment issues; after a forceful embrace between frame and concrete, Carter’s racket cleanly snapped at the handle on the subsequent point, leaving a temporarily confused Carter staring at four and a half inches of disembodied grip. The Louisiana native grabbed a backup racket and proceeded to cruise to a 6-3, 6-3 victory. Carter’s expeditious success has quickly earned the attention and approval of his teammates.
“I think we really saw his resilience and versatility over the course of the spring trip,” said Liu. “Princeton was able to perform feats that we usually only see from a junior or a senior. He was a key reason we did well on our trip.”
“He’s a great kid and athlete,” said Greg Lyon ’17. “There’s so much power in his game that he can totally take over a match when he’s on. His natural abilities alone will be too much for a lot of players. Everyone on the team is constantly honing in their focus and point construction so he will only get better with time. Regardless of whether his opponent is a moth or a butterfly that day, he will tear it up.”
Despite the solid record and positive indications for the future of the season, the team knows it has wrinkles to smooth out if it hopes to catch Bowdoin and Middlebury, who are both sitting at 8-1 after their own spring break trips. Many team members expressed discontentment with the 6-3 loss to CMS, who they saw as a beatable opponent. Additionally, the thin margin of victory over Quinnipiac came as a surprise to some who expected a more comfortable win.
At No. 1 doubles, Liu and Jake Roberts ’17 have struggled to close out close contests, and the singles lineup has failed to convert a number of three-setters into wins. With some upcoming NESCAC tilts likely to be decided by 5-4 or 6-3 margins, Wesleyan will be unable to afford squandering many, if any, of these marginal matches.
Despite some minor struggles by the duo at No. 1, the doubles lineup has clearly improved from previous seasons. Eusebio and Smith have dominated, while Chen and captain Cam Daniels ’18 present a promising new tandem at No. 3.
“Doubles has always been our main weakness,” Liu said. “But it’s turning into our strength. That completely changes the tone of our matches, in a good way.”
On Sunday, April 2, the Cardinals host Hamilton to kick off their NESCAC schedule. They then host Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams, and Conn College, before hitting the road to fill out their regular season. Wesleyan swept the Continentals last season, and aren’t expecting much more trouble from this year’s squad, which is 4-7. Carter, always the optimist, was enthusiastic about the team’s chances going forward and applauded their chemistry.
“[We’re] hungry to win each day,” said Carter. “We pick each other up and push each other forward. We’re a team of brothers. We are Wes!”