After finishing in the bottom half of the Ivy League for two straight years, the Yale men’s tennis team will look to change its fortunes this season against a difficult slate of Ancient Eight opponents.

The action begins this weekend as the Bulldogs (12–6, 0–0 Ivy) travel south to take on Penn and No. 34 Princeton, which is one of five conference foes currently ranked among the top 56 schools in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

Despite what seems to be tough competition, Yale will attempt to build upon its 12–6 nonconference record thus far this season. However, with their usual No. 1 singles player and 2015 All-Ivy First Team selection Tyler Lu ’17 sidelined for the season with an injury, the Elis may have an uphill battle in exceeding last year’s 2–5 conference mark.

“We are looking forward to surprising some teams [this season],” captain Jason Brown ’16 said. “I think we are viewed as the underdogs in most of the matches we play, so I’m excited to play with nothing to lose.”

The Bulldogs’ Ivy campaign begins in Philadelphia on Friday versus Penn (5–11, 0–0). Yale has not lost a conference match to Penn since 2008, and the Elis handled the Quakers with relative ease last spring, coming out on top 5–2.

Penn, which finished last in the Ivy League with an 0–7 record last year, enters this weekend having lost five of its last six matches.

“In the next few weeks, we’ll expect to fight for every point and try to pull [off] some upsets,” Alex Hagermoser ’17 said. “We have a great chance against Penn this weekend to get to start the Ivy season strong.”

Following Penn, the Bulldogs will take on Princeton (12–6, 0–0) on Saturday in New Jersey. Following a 4–3 record and fourth-place finish in the Ivy League last season, as well as the graduation of first-team All-Ivy selection Zack McCourt, the Tigers have opened 2016 with a strong showing in nonconference play. Princeton has knocked off six ranked opponents, three of which came against higher-ranked programs including a 6–1 victory versus then-No. 24 Penn State on March 5.

Since that win, Princeton has dropped two of three matches, though all against higher-ranked opponents. The Tigers’ current No. 34 ranking trails only No. 28 Columbia among Ancient Eight teams, and is Princeton’s highest ranking of the season.

Though they are one of only three Ivy teams not ranked by the ITA, the Elis remain excited to embrace the challenges of the difficult matchups on their schedule.

That enthusiasm persists despite entering this weekend as the losers of two straight matches, including a 4–3 defeat at the hands of then-No. 58 St. John’s. With Ziqi Wang ’18, Martin Svenning ’16 and Dennis Wang ’19 all earning victories and two more teammates forcing third sets in their losses, Brown noted that the team has been improving throughout the season with the tight loss to the ranked Red Storm marking a “peak.”

“Last weekend against St. John’s was a particularly encouraging match because, regardless of any posted scores or results, the team finished the day feeling confident in each other and our starting lineup, and our ability to compete at the highest levels of Ivy tennis,” Ziqi Wang said.

If the St. John’s match serves as any indication, youth will play a key role for this year’s Eli squad, with underclassmen starting in four of the six singles matches.

A pair of sophomores, Fedor Andrienko ’18 and Stefan Doehler ’18, also started the first doubles match for Yale. Still, Ziqi Wang noted the key role Brown and Svenning, the team’s lone two seniors, will serve in conference play.

“We’ll particularly be looking to the experience of the senior class to lead the team through the next few weeks, and to the sophomores and juniors to step up at the top of the singles and doubles lineups to clinch key victories over our toughest rivals,” Ziqi Wang said.

Yale’s matches against Penn on Friday and against Princeton on Saturday will both begin at 1 p.m.

Sports Editor for the Yale Daily News and the Down The Field sports blog.