TENNIS: After promising fall seasons, Bulldogs look to ace their spring
After a productive fall season spent improving skills and building bonds, the Yale men’s and women’s tennis teams look forward to returning to the court and showing off their competitiveness in the quest for an Ivy title.
Lukas Flippo, Senior Photographer
After a successful fall season, the Yale men’s and women’s tennis teams are eager to return to the court this spring and compete for the Ivy League title.
The women’s team (2–0, 0–0 Ivy) has already begun to shine, kicking off the spring season at home with a dominant 2–0 opening last weekend. The Elis hosted Boston University and Quinnipiac, winning 6–1 against the Terriers and sweeping the Bobcats 7–0. The men’s team (0–0, 0–0 Ivy) will also begin their season at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center this weekend, with matches against the University at Buffalo, Temple and Fairfield.
“We had a strong performance in the fall,” women’s team captain Jessie Gong ’22 wrote to the News. “I am looking forward to one last season with my teammates. Super excited to compete for the Bulldogs and can’t wait to see what we can do. Our goal is to win [the Ivy championship].”
Though collegiate tennis is a year-round sport, the official season begins in the spring, and fall semester matches do not count towards a team’s record. This period is an opportunity for school rankings to be established, as well for athletes to gain playing experience and improve skills. Teams also have the chance to bond, and coaches can test out different singles and doubles line-ups.
Although the spring season is the competitive focus of the collegiate tennis athletic year, the fall was still an eventful time for the Bulldogs.
Last summer, the women’s team welcomed a new head coach, Rachel Kahan. At her previous post as head coach at Middlebury College, Kahan led the program to two NCAA Division III Tournament semifinal appearances and a 40–10 overall record during her four-year tenure. Kahan replaced Danielle McNamara, who served as the Elis’ head coach from 2006 to 2014 and again from 2016 to 2021.
The men’s and women’s teams each also welcomed three members of the Class of 2025 into their rosters. The rookies added young talent to Yale’s experienced squads and were able to gain valuable playing experience during the fall season.
“It was definitely a little bit difficult to adjust [at first] since junior tennis is so different from playing at a collegiate level,” Jamie Kim ’25 said to the News about the fall. “Nevertheless, I’m happy with how much I’ve learned from this first season and am looking forward to keep improving and fine tuning different parts of my game.”
The women’s team opened their fall season in September with the three-day Columbia Invitational. Mirabelle Brettkelly ’25 won the Queens Flight Final in her collegiate debut, while Gong was narrowly edged out in the Manhattan Flight Final. The Blue and White then returned home to host the Bulldog Invitational, where the team was outstanding, losing only one singles match and one doubles match during the entire event. The Bulldogs also swept Hostra, winning all of their singles and doubles matches against the Pride. The team later further developed its skills in the Brown Invitational.
In October, Gong and Chelsea Kung ’23 were selected directly to compete in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Super Regionals in singles and doubles, while Caroline Dunleavy ’22 and Rhea Shrivastava ’23 qualified for the event after strong performances in the ITA Northeast Regionals.
After winning the doubles final in the ITA Northeast Regionals, Gong and Kung also clinched their spots to represent Yale at the 2021 ITA National Fall Championship, the final and most prestigious competition of the fall collegiate tennis season. They were two of only 12 Ivy Leage athletes in the event, which features the top players in the country. The pair had a hard-fought first-round face-off against the No. 4 UNC duo of Fiona Crawley and former champion Elizabeth Scotty but dropped the match 6–2 and 6–1.
The Yale women’s tennis team wrapped up the fall smoothly with dominant performances against Ivy rival Dartmouth in the Big Green Invitational. The Elis had six singles victories and two doubles wins.
“We had strong wins throughout the semester, and I am proud of how we competed, especially since the last time we played was March of 2020,” Gong said. “Results aside, it was really exciting to finally be back on the court as a team, training and competing together.”
Having cruised through their opening weekend, the Bulldogs will travel to Indiana next Friday, Feb. 4 to face-off against Indiana and Notre Dame.
The formidable women’s team will then seek to rewrite history at the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship, to be held from Feb. 11 to 13 in Ithaca, New York. Yale hosted the last championship in 2019, where they were the seventh seed. The team was able to improve its record by beating No. 5 Dartmouth, but would later fall 4–2 against that year’s eventual champion, Columbia.
After six other non-conference match-ups and the Blue Gray Invitational, the Bulldogs will be able to start the Ivy season with a match-up against Brown on April 2. The conference schedule will end at home with a face-off against rival Harvard on Apr. 24. In 2019, the women’s team was only two wins short of an Ivy title after hard-fought losses against Penn and eventual champion Princeton. However, with two years of growth under its belt, the team is confident in its prospects this year.
“I feel like when you’re not able to play your sport or compete for a long time, you start to appreciate it even more,” Kim said. “I think for us, gratitude [has] translated into our work ethic in practices, which then [has given] us the result we wanted in our matches.”
The men’s team kicked off their fall in September with solid performances in Princeton’s Orange Lawn Invitational and the Dartmouth Invitational. In the opening invitational, the sophomore duo of Theo Dean ’24 and Shervin Dehmoubed ’25 was outstanding in a win against the University at Buffalo. Dean also won in straight sets against Buffalo’s Finn Macnamara and Dehmoubed defeated Penn’s Zach Smith. Renaud Lefevre ’24 was also dominant against Penn, winning a singles match and pairing up with Robert Shymansky ’23 to defeat Penn’s Zack Lam and Tai Goodman.
The Bulldogs carried their momentum into the Dartmouth Invitational, where they showed off their prowess. The men’s team swept all of their singles matches against Boston College. The first years also showed incredible promise, with Walker Oberg ’25 boasting a straight sets victory, and Aidan Reilly ’25 and Luke Neal ’25 winning in three sets. Yale was also dominant against the Big Green, winning three singles and one doubles.
“[The fall season] was a restart for us… after we had our 2020 season cut short in March and we didn’t compete the next year,” Yale men’s tennis head coach Christopher Drake told the News. “It was great to get the team back together. We tried to focus on setting the foundation for what we want to do and [how to move] forward with our program. The guys did a nice job… and [are] motivated tennis players that want to reach their potential both individually and collectively.”
Michael Sun ’23 propelled himself to the ITA Northeast Regional quarterfinals in October, earning impressive singles wins, such as one over No. 2 Columbia’s Alex Kotzen. He eventually fell in a hard-fought thriller against Columbia’s Max Westphal, a member of the French Junior Davis Cup team.
Before splitting its time between the Clemson and Yale invitationals — where the Bulldogs wrapped up the fall and had significant success — the men’s team traveled to Massachusetts for the Harvard Invitational. Yale was dominant against host Harvard, completing a near-sweep by winning all three doubles matches and five of six singles. Yale swept in singles against Brown and won four of six doubles. The Elis then concluded the Invitational successfully with a singles sweep over Dartmouth.
“We had some good results in fall tournaments, but… we’re just focused on building long-term for the spring, so in terms of that, I think we did a very good job,” Dean said in an interview with the News. “It’s tough because obviously everyone has a lot of commitments, but I think we did a good job of keeping good habits and our effort level up over the course of the semester.”
After its opening matches against the University at Buffalo, Temple and Fairfield this week, the men’s team will travel to Indiana to face off against Butler and Indiana. Then, they will face-off against St. John’s and Boston University before heading to the ECACs.
After ECACs, the team will play a series of non-conference teams and then head out west for match-ups against Santa Clara, Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara. The conference will then open with a match-up against Brown on April 3. The season will end with a thriller at rival Harvard on April 24.
“The biggest thing we’re looking forward to [this season] is just getting back on the court and competing, [looking] at everything in terms of how we can improve… and just making progress throughout the year again,” Drake told the News, adding that the team has “meshed together really well” both on and off the court.
The men’s team last competed in the ECACs in 2019, where the Bulldogs had a 0–2 record and ended up in last place. Yale also had a disappointing conference finish that same year, losing all seven of its matches. This year, the men’s team aims to change the narrative and show that it can be a top contender.
“It’s been a goal to get more competitive and I think we have a good chance to do that this year.” Drake said. “So, [I’m] looking forward to putting some wins on the board and… [getting] this thing going in a good direction.”
The men’s team will host the Buffalo Bulls to kick off their spring on Friday, Jan. 28 at 4 p.m.