The men’s tennis team returned to the courts a few weeks ago with the goal of achieving what slipped away from them last spring — the Ivy League title. After close, disappointing losses to both Princeton and Columbia at the end of last season, the Bulldogs were out of contention for the Ancient Eight crown.

However, the Elis finished their season on a very good note, by not only thrashing Dartmouth 5-1 but also defeating their formidable rival Harvard 4-3.

“It is always a good season when you beat Harvard,” captain Chris Shackelton ’02 said.

The win over Harvard forced the Crimson to share the Ivy championship with the Lions.

And, despite losing out on the Ivy title, the Yale team still tallied a few great distinctions last season.

Undefeated in Ancient Eight competition, Steve Berke ’03 was not only the Ivy League player of the year, but he was also the first Eli to be awarded first team All-American honors since the 1960s after he beat two top-10 seeds in May at the NCAA tournament in Athens, Ga.

Berke reached the quarterfinals, where he lost to the eventual champion, Matias Boeker, 6-3, 6-4. It was also the first time in NCAA history that an unseeded player reached the quarterfinals.

“After his showing at the NCAAs, we know our team has one of the best players in the nation,” Ryan Coyle ’02 said.

Head coach Alex Dorato, who took the Bulldog squad that finished 2-5 in the 2000 season to an unprecedented national ranking of No. 55 in 2001, was also named ECAC coach of the year.

“Nobody deserves it more,” Shackelton said. “I couldn’t imagine a better coach.”

Even with the losses of last year’s No. 2 and No. 3 singles players — Greg Royce ’01 and Scott Carlton ’01 — Shackelton assures that this year’s squad is still strong.

“This team is just as good of a team as last year, if not better,” Shackelton said. “With four promising freshmen, we have a strong recruiting class.”

The freshmen are enjoying their first weeks of collegiate tennis as well.

“The team is a good group of guys,” Ryan Murphy ’05 said. “We all work hard on court and have a lot of fun off court too.”

This team will have to work hard to achieve its goal of bringing home championship rings in an always competitive Ivy League.

“The Ivy League got a lot better this year,” said Berke, who is ranked No. 41 in preseason polls. “But we have a team that puts us in the mix. It’ll come down to close 4-3 matches that can go either way as usual.”

However, in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attacks, the squad’s schedule, like those of sports teams around the nation, was interrupted. No competition was slated for last weekend, and practice was canceled Tuesday.

“Like everyone in the country, our team was also impacted by last week’s tragedy,” Shackelton said, noting that brothers of two team members, Dan Arellano ’04 and Andrew Arons ’05, both work at the World Trade Center.

Canceling practice on Tuesday allowed the team to reflect, while Dorato and Shackelton made phone calls to graduates of the team who work in New York, including the past three captains, Reid Lerner ’99, Scott Mayo ’00 and Royce.

“Even though I work in midtown about 40 blocks away from the WTC towers, it was really comforting to know that my former teammates were thinking of all of us,” Royce said.

But practice is back to normal this week as the team prepares for their first weekend of competition. Shackelton and Coyle will head to Princeton to compete in an individual tournament while eight others will travel to Cornell to do the same.

“I hope our team has a successful weekend,” Berke said. “It’ll be a good gauge of the upcoming fall season.”