Courtesy of Yale Athletics

This weekend marks the beginning of Ivy League competition for the Yale men’s tennis team. Following a strong start in nonconference play, the Bulldogs look to rebound from a last-place Ivy League finish in 2016 as they face off against Brown on home soil.

During last year’s winless conference campaign, the closest the Elis (7–3, 0–0 Ivy) came to achieving victory was a 4––3 defeat at the hands of the Bears (8–2, 0–0) in Providence, at the end of their Ivy League season. This Saturday serves as an opportunity for Yale to exact revenge on Brown, and to begin Ancient Eight play on a positive note in the hopes of achieving the first winning record against conference competition since 2013.

“We’ve had an exceptionally strong start to the season and are looking to continue that trend in our Ivy matches,” Ziqi Wang ’18 said “All of our starting lineup has excelled in both singles and doubles across the board. As a team, this is the most confident we’ve been in the past three years, [and] our top-50 national ranking reflects that achievement.”

Early signs from the Bulldogs look promising as they ride a three-game win streak and an undefeated home record into the weekend. The Elis, currently ranked No. 45 in the country by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association standings, have already earned victories over William & Mary and Buffalo, the two foes responsible for both of Brown’s losses.

Much of Yale’s surge in the early part of the season can be attributed to the stellar play of the newly acquired freshman class. Newcomers Ryan Cheng ’20, Dylan King ’20 and Andrew Heller ’20 have each played a prominent role as rookies, as all three have been regulars in the six-man singles lineup during the 2017 season thus far. King’s spring has begun at a particularly torrid pace, having already amassed an early record of 8–2 playing in the Bulldogs’ No. 3 singles slot.

Additionally, the return of captain Tyler Lu ’17 has paid major dividends for the Yale squad. Lu has been perfect so far in finished matches, posting an 8–0 record in the premier slot. Motivated by a season-ending wrist injury that derailed his and Yale’s 2016 campaign, Lu expressed excitement at the prospect of a drastically improved Ivy League season.

“I think our strong freshman class this year and a couple players returning from injury has led to a more positive environment and better work ethic,” Lu said. “It definitely showed when we beat [No. 26 Old Dominion]. Currently, we’re the third-highest ranked Ivy, so I definitely believe we can give the top Ivy teams a good fight this year if not take them out.”

The Elis possess an advantage over Brown on paper, though the Bears have the roster talent to pull off an upset. While Yale has defeated both of the aforementioned common opponents who topped the Bears earlier this season, a couple of Brown players enter the dual match riding hot streaks.

Brown’s Jack Haworth enters on a team-best 9-–1 singles run, while Aaron Sandberg also brings a competent 7–2 record in his last nine singles matches in the top half of the ladder. Moreover, Brown’s premier doubles duo of Greg Garcia and Lucas Da Silveira boasts an unblemished 7–0 record on the season, posing a serious threat to Yale’s combo of Stefan Doehler ’18 and Alex Hagermoser ’17.

Though the Elis will break from conference competition for over a month following their duel with Brown, a win on Saturday would provide the Bulldogs with the momentum to achieve their goal of a winning campaign, something they believe to be very achievable.

“Brown is a solid team, but this is a match we are capable of winning,” Hagermoser said. “It would be huge confidence boost for everyone to lock in an Ivy win this early. Also, this match will give us a good sense of where we stand in the Ivy League before Ivy matches really get underway in April.”

Action between Yale and Brown begins at 2 p.m. on March 5 at Yale’s Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center.