Three matches made for a long weekend, but the experience of veterans and the energy of rookies helped the men’s tennis team attain a respectable result.
Led by Brandon Wai ’07, the Bulldogs finished fifth in a 16-team field last weekend at the National Tennis Center in New York. The Elis defeated American University on Friday, fell to number one seed Penn State on Saturday and thumped Ivy League rival Columbia on Sunday in the consolation round.
Wai won all three of his singles matches, including an impressive victory over Penn State’s top player, Mark Barry, who entered the weekend ranked 36th in the nation. Milosz Gudzowski ’06 said there is no mistaking who is the leader of the team.
“Brandon is always there when you talk about standout performances,” Gudzowski said. “To win all three singles matches against such good competition is a tremendous accomplishment.”
Several team members noted that both the team format and the impressive victory over Columbia will prove valuable in building a sense of unity and giving the corps of freshmen valuable confidence.
This weekend provided the only team dual-match tournament of the fall season for the Bulldogs. The spring season is nearly all dual-match competitions, so the Eastern College Athletic Conference Invitational gave the freshmen a chance to get their feet wet in the tense atmosphere characteristic of team play.
Mike Caldwell ’09, who went 1-2 while playing in the third singles slot, said he noticed right away the difference between the invitational this weekend and individual tournaments.
“The team is definitely a lot more fired up and cheers a lot more,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell added that traveling and playing together facilitated a team atmosphere that will be important come spring.
“I think our last weekend we got a little bit closer by just being together, but this weekend even more so,” Caldwell said. “The atmosphere and attitude is just totally different in the team setting.”
Caldwell stands among a trio of freshmen who will be critical to team success in the spring. In addition to Caldwell, Jeff Dawson ’09 played in the fourth singles position and Josh Lederman played part of the weekend in the sixth spot. Several players, including Rowan Reynolds ’06, recognized the importance of the freshmen and the value of the experience they gained this weekend.
“We have a really young team and it was a great chance for some of the young guys to get some experience, because we realize our freshman class is just incredible,” Reynolds said. “This weekend was such a good chance to establish a rapport with all our teammates for the spring.”
The Penn State match showed just how green Yale’s team is. Facing a strong lineup, the Elis got out of the blocks slowly and were unable to recover despite Wai’s impressive performance.
Caldwell said he thinks inexperience played a large role in the loss.
“There was a little bit of an intimidation factor,” Caldwell said. “We didn’t have the confidence to take it to them right off the start, and that hurt us.”
But an impressive victory against Columbia quickly regained any confidence lost against the Nittany Lions on Saturday. With spring season expectations omnipresent, the win over Columbia provides a rallying point. And for the younger players, it is a measuring stick that can serve as an affirmation of confidence.
Caldwell, who lost against Penn State but recovered to win both his singles and doubles matches against Columbia, saw Sunday’s victory as a turning point in the team’s approach to big matches.
“After beating Columbia, if we get a rematch against Penn State or play a team like them I feel like we have the confidence to get off to a quick start and win this time,” Caldwell said.
Wai agreed, noting that confidence is the pivot on which the team’s future will turn.
“We all now know that we really can compete beyond just saying it,” Wai said. “After this weekend, we have proof.”