It was unthinkable that the men’s tennis team could manage a victory. But in an intense final match against No. 70 Radford, the team pulled off a win and the rights to face No. 1 USC.
The Bulldogs competed last weekend in the ITA Division I Men’s Kick-off Weekend in Los Angeles, Calif. At the tournament, the Elis were placed in a pool with No. 49 Vanderbilt, USC and Radford, and scheduled to face Radford first. The winner of that game was to play USC — the defending NCAA champion, who went on to beat Vanderbilt that same day.
“Our biggest goal going into the weekend was to focus on Radford so that we could have a chance to play against the No. 1 team in the country,” Joel Samaha ’12 said. “Once we accomplished that goal, I think we all changed our goals to being more relaxed and giving our best against USC.”
But the match against Radford was anything but easy.
After losing the doubles point to the Highlanders, the Elis improved in the singles’ competition. When the first three matches were complete, only Erik Blumenkranz ’12 had scored a win for the Elis (6–3, 6–2). Marc Powers ’13 bested his opponent in two sets to make the team score 3-2, with two matches left to play.
The Elis would have to win both in order to play USC the next day.
Calvin Bennett ’11 was the first of the decisive matches. He lost his first set, and was down 5-1 in the second. The end drawing near, he said he suddenly realized he didn’t want to lose.
“When I was down 5–1 I just thought, ‘Hey, I really want to play USC tomorrow,’ so I picked up my game, focused on every point, and pulled it out,” Bennett said.
He won 12 straight games to take both sets and the match (6–7, 7–5, 6-0).
“I don’t know how [Bennett] did it, but he did and started tearing the kid apart,” Powers said.
With the team score tied at 3–3, it was up to No. 5 seed Daniel Hoffman ’13 to seal a Yale victory.
In a another nail-biter, Hoffman delivered. He won the first set 7–6, but lost the second 3–6. He then came back and won the final set 6–4.
“He dug down and pulled out the win,” Bennett said. “It was a fantastic display of indomitable determination under an enormous amount of pressure.”
Powers said that during the last two matches, the entire team was cheering from the sidelines.
“We were a little rowdy,” he added.
The team win against Radford offered the Bulldogs a chance to play the top-ranked team in the nation, something Powers said head coach Alex Dorato figured a Yale team had not done in 30 or 40 years.
USC was as powerful as expected, several teammates said, and the honor was in being on the same court.
The highlight of the Bulldog match was the No. 1 doubles seed. Erik Blumenkranz ’12 and Joel Samaha ’12 stole a USC sweep by winning a hard fought match 8–5.
“Erik came up with some clutch volleys, and my serve really came through at the end when we really could have tightened up trying to finish them off,” Samaha said.
However, by taking the first two doubles matches, USC gained the double’s point and the upper hand going into singles competition.
USC then swept the Bulldogs in all six matches — Yale did not win a single set.
“We love getting to go out there and compete, as well as see all of our alumni in the area,” Blumenkranz said. “The match against USC was a lot of fun.”
At their next event, the Elis will face Army on Feb. 7 at 1 p.m.