While only one top-five seed made it to the quarterfinals earlier in March at what is widely considered the fifth slam, the PNB Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., the men’s tennis team failed to catch the SoCal upset fever during its time in Claremont over Spring Break. They finished their trip with a 4-4 (1-0 NESCAC) record against top D-III competition.

Unlike Bowdoin, many opponents had already started their seasons before spring break and had been able to practice outside for a couple months, if not year-round.

Regardless, after two invitational tournaments, the Polar Bears opened up their spring season with a 7-2 win over Skidmore. The team won two of the three doubles matches to open the contest, and the only singles loss was Sam King ’14, who had to retire early due to injury.

The very next day though, with its doubles starting to unravel, the team fell to then-No. 11 Carnegie Mellon, 6-3. With King still sidelined, Head Coach Conor Smith had to push the singles in positions 3-6 to each play one spot up.  Luke Trinka ’16 and Chris Lord ’14 were able to win their matches, but with only one doubles win, the effort was not enough. 

On their third consecutive day of matches, the Polar Bears fell to top-ranked Washington University 7-2. Nearly all the singles matches went deep into the third set and all three doubles matches ended in tight pro-sets, but the Polar Bears were only able to eke out two of the close matches—both of which happened to involve King in his first day back after his trip to the ER.

“It ended up being fine, but it was pretty scary,” said King of the heat issues that led to his hospital visit. “I had to sit out the match before, which I think lit a fire in my belly to want to put the team in a position to beat Wash U, which was at the time ranked.”

“Early in that match I was losing a lot of close games, but I made some adjustments to play more aggressively and was fortunate enough to pull the match out.”

While the team finally had a couple days’ rest to prepare for and beat Pomona-Pitzer 5-3, that afternoon it faced No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and was shut out 9-0 without a single match even making it to a third set.

“Claremont’s just good,” admitted Smith. “I’m not making excuses but it’s just a reality. We were pretty beat up physically and mentally after we had a tough match that morning.”

The team had another tough loss against No. 7 Emory the next day. But after three days of rest, the Polar Bears got back on track, defeating both Trinity and Denison on back-to-back days to earn their first NESCAC victory—and bring themselves back to a .500 record.

Despite failing to upset any of the top teams they faced, the Polar Bears know their season is not determined by the success of their play in March.

“It feels good beating Trinity, but I’d be lying to say a win against them is really going to be a hallmark to where we want to be,” said Smith. “But I’m not going to go out and schedule a bunch of cupcakes. We’d rather push ourselves and see what we’re made of—even though we’re literally finding out what we’re made of on the spot.”

The team has room for improvement, especially in doubles, but its play in California is anything but a setback for the season.

“Our expectation for our team is always a developmental one with a long-term goal in sight,” said Smith. “We want to peak in May and continue to develop ourselves and get better so we can play our best tennis the NCAA’s and in tourney time.”

“We’re trying to win a championship this year and that starts with pinning yourself against the best competition out there,” added King.