c/o Sam Robinson

c/o Sam Robinson

Last year, the men’s tennis team took a young roster and snuck into the NESCAC playoffs. All eight members of last year’s team returned this year with something to prove. Their roster now had the experience needed to challenge anyone in the NESCAC, and they competed in many close matches throughout the regular season.

To add to their eight-man returning squad, the team bolstered its ranks this year with four new faces. Brett Keeling ’27 and Jex Frankel ’27 entered their first year of college tennis eager to contend, and transfers Gregoire Legrand ’25 and Max Litton ’26 contributed much-needed experience to a roster that is still fueled by young talent.

Multiple players experienced early success in fall tournaments. At Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Regionals, which took place on campus, Harry Collomb ’26 won the Singles B Draw of the tournament, while JT Bilski ’26, Keeling, and captain Ben Mitchell ’24 racked up multiple wins in the A Draw. At the Skidmore Invite the next weekend, Frankel secured a win in the Singles C Draw, giving the Cards some momentum heading into the spring.

“I think everyone felt really confident,” Bilski said. “I had a good fall compared to my freshman year, and a lot of other guys did super well [at ITAs] in singles and doubles brackets. So everyone felt confident that this was going to be a good season.”

c/o Sam Robinson

c/o Sam Robinson

The Red and Black began their spring season with two away matches against Amherst and Hamilton. While they fell to the Mammoths 2–7, they bounced right back with a 7–2 win over the Continentals. The win gave them more confidence heading into their spring break trip.

Keeling spoke to The Argus about how difficult it was to kick off the year against Amherst, as well as the importance of recovering against Hamilton. 

“It’s pretty difficult playing your first match against probably your biggest rival,” Keeling said. “So I think in our first match we were a bit too tentative. The next day against Hamilton we played on their indoor surface, which is very fast and is suited towards their game. But we did a good job overcoming that.”

The Cards then traveled to Texas for spring break, a change in the program from the Florida trips of the last few years. They played tough opponents that challenged the entire roster, but the team persevered. While they went 1–3 on the trip, their only win being against No. 39 ranked Concordia University Texas (7–2), they still used the time to bond as a team and strengthen their chemistry before returning to campus to face the best the NESCAC had to offer. 

“The spring break trip is always fun,” Mitchell said. “It’s a grind, playing four to five matches in a week in Texas. From a team bonding perspective, we’re on the road together, we’re eating meals together. It definitely builds chemistry and camaraderie. I think we’ve been a close team all year, but that trip definitely made us closer.”

The Cards did not have an ideal start once they returned from Texas. They lost four straight matches, including two to non-conference opponents, Quinnipiac University and No. 24 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and two to NESCAC foes, No. 39 Trinity and No. 14 Tufts. While other teams would be discouraged by a losing streak like this, these results lit a fire under the Red and Black.

“We knew we had a tough schedule,” Litton said. “But losing a lot of those tight matches early on, for me personally, it made me want to get one of those even more. It’s tough to see the other team celebrating after a close match…but we wanted that just as much.”

The Cards got exactly that, defeating Bates 8–1 for their second NESCAC win. Especially impressive about this match was their singles play, as they swept the Bobcats 6–0.

“It was huge,” Bilski said. “We knew that if we wanted to make the postseason, this was a must-win match. So we came out guns blazing, keeping the energy and liveliness up throughout the courts. We got that big win, and it gave us the confidence we needed.”

That confidence was necessary, as the Red and Black had two of their toughest opponents on deck the next weekend. They were home underdogs as they hosted both No. 5 Williams and the defending NESCAC champions, No. 9 Middlebury. While they knew it was going to be a difficult weekend, they were prepared for whatever the Ephs and the Panthers were going to throw at them.

“The message from the coaches was to have no expectations going in,” Litton said. “It starts 0-0; it’s a clean slate. Our assistant coach [Lucas Pickering] told us ‘Be ready for war,’ because if we were to make it close, it wasn’t going to be a quick match.”

That message helped the Cards early against the Ephs, as Wesleyan started off hot, sweeping the doubles matches. After building this 3–0 lead, the Cards were only two wins away from pulling off a major upset. After Bilski, Collomb, and Litton lost their singles matches, Mitchell secured a huge fourth point for the Cards, defeating his opponent 6–4, 6–4.

“It was such a fun match,” Mitchell said. “I was focused on keeping my opponent uncomfortable. I tried to mix in a lot of different styles of shots and strategies during the match, so he never knew what was coming, and that turned out to be an effective strategy.”

With the Cards up 4–3, it was down to Keeling and captain Max Lustgarten ’25. One of them needed to win their match to give the Cards the upset over the Ephs. Both matches were close, with Keeling going to three sets and Lustgarten winning a tiebreaker in his first set. However, it was the freshman who prevailed first, getting a huge 6–4, (3–6), 6–2 victory. The team mobbed Keeling after the win, in what many of the players cited as the highlight of their season.

“I don’t really remember any of it, looking back,” Keeling said. “I kind of blacked out because I was really focused on the match. Somehow, there was so much pressure, but I didn’t feel it because I was focused on what I was doing. It was great.”

Lustgarten pulled out a win as well, defeating his opponent 7–6, (8–6), 6–4, wrapping up a massive 6–3 upset for the Cards. While they did not have as much luck against Middlebury the next day, they still battled, winning all three doubles matches for the second day in a row. 

The next weekend, the team traveled to Maine for crucial matches against No. 7 Bowdoin and against Colby. These matches were crucial for the team’s ranking as the postseason grew closer. Their first match was not ideal, as the Polar Bears took care of the Cards handily, but Wes was able to bounce right back and snatch a nail-biting 5–4 victory over the Mules. Once again, Mitchell and Keeling played brilliantly in their singles matches, both defeating their opponents in the third set to lead the Cards to their fourth NESCAC win.

The Red and Black closed out the regular season this past Sunday at home against Conn. College. Head Coach Mike Fried told the guys that it was a great opportunity for them to round out the season with big wins against close competitors, and they did exactly that. Wes played their best match of the season, winning every match on their way to a 9–0 victory over their fellow Connecticut foe. 

“We came out with a lot of energy in doubles,” Mitchell said after the match. “While [second and third] doubles were tight towards the end, we came up clutch on a few big points. Going up 3–0 freed everybody up, and everyone [in singles matches] was stepping in and ripping the ball. One through six, just clean tennis.”

After this win, Wes is seeded at No. 6 coming into the NESCAC Tournament. With NESCAC playoffs taking place next weekend, the Red and Black have themselves a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals against Tufts. The Jumbos sent the Cards packing last year, and they were the fourth loss Wes faced during their slow start after spring break. While the Jumbos may have won 9–0 earlier in the season, a lot has changed since, and the Cards know that as they head into next weekend.

After the match against Conn. College, Bilski looked ahead to what this upcoming weekend’s matchup may look like.

“Tufts is a very talented team,” Bilski said. “I think we’ll be able to play them at home, which is great to maybe get a home crowd. But we know we’re going to have to compete really hard to win that match. It’s going to be a battle.”

Coming off a year when they were the last team into the playoffs, the Cards were able to achieve big victories against strong opponents, while proving to the entire NESCAC that they will always keep fighting, regardless of whom they play. This year showed promise for a growing Cards team, and major wins along the way show their continuing progress.

“The future is bright,” Mitchell said. “We have a lot of talented underclassmen, and a bunch of guys [who] are passionate about tennis and really want to represent Wesleyan well. We’ve got an incredible coach who breeds this culture of hard work and a precise commitment to the game, in all aspects. When it comes to the future of Wesleyan tennis, the best days are ahead.”

Max Forstein can be reached at mforstein@wesleyan.edu.