The men’s tennis team, the defending NCAA Division III champions, finished the Stag-Hen Tournament in Claremont, California with a 8-1 record. It heads into this weekend on a four-game win streak. The Polar Bears are currently ranked No. 3 in the nation after a 5-4 loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) dropped them one spot from their previous No. 2 ranking.
Captain Kyle Wolfe ’18 believes that the team’s strong performance at Stag-Hen, even with the loss against CMS, was a good indicator of the team’s abilities.
“We played a good match against [CMS]. We lost a bunch of close matches, but it definitely was a positive experience,” Wolfe said. “Those guys have been playing outside for the past six months, while we haven’t seen outside courts for a while. To be playing close against them so early in the season is definitely a positive.”
Over the course of two weeks, the team played nine matches, including two double headers and three back-to-back matches.
“We played the most matches that we’ve played in a really long time,” Grant Urken ’19 said. “It was good because we got to test ourselves physically as well as mentally. I think we came out succeeding in that situation. I think we should be really proud of the way we handled that adversity.”
The tournament highlighted two of the team’s main strengths: its doubles lineup and its depth.
“We didn’t go down after doubles against any team that we played—and we played some really good doubles teams,” Wolfe said. “And then the middle and bottom of our lineup is really strong compared to a lot of teams that we play, so if we can get a good doubles lead we’ll usually be in pretty good shape.”
The tournament also provided the first years with a chance to gain more competition experience. The newcomers rose to the challenge as Justin Patel ’20 played No. 3 doubles and came out of the tournament undefeated.
“With first years, you’re always worried about them fitting in on the team and making sure that they feel part of the team,” Wolfe said. “Spring Break was a good opportunity for them to see what real matches are like and I think we definitely came back a stronger team than [we were] when we left.”
One of the distinct features of this year’s team is the lack of seniors. Six out of the nine players are underclassmen.
“It’s definitely a younger team,” Urken said. “I came in really respecting the seniors from last year and I didn’t necessarily know how it was going to be this year with [Wolfe] as a captain, but he’s really stepped up and been a great leader for everyone on the team.”
According to Urken, the lack of seniors has positively affected team chemistry and has not had a negative impact on the team’s performance.
“I think we’re a really tight-knit group,” he said. “Last year, we were super close as well, but there was the gap in ages … Now everyone is kind of condensed. The age hasn’t really put a factor into effort level or performance at all.”
The Polar Bears will be facing Brandeis (4-4) and MIT (7-0) this weekend, and both Wolfe and Urken are expecting two tough matches.
“They’re both really good teams. I think they’ve always played us tough in the past, both of them,” Urken said. “I think we just have to keep our sight kind of short-term and just kind of look at each match as our own challenge because there are definitely spots where, if we’re not concentrated and ready to go, they could not go our way. So I think we need to be really prepared for these two teams.”
The Polar Bears face the Brandeis Judges at home today at 2 pm.