Men's tennis awaits NCAA fate

by Hondo Sen | 5/5/98 5:00am

Forget the fact that last week saw the Big Green men's tennis team take on the final three matches of their season. The importance of the week was measured by Dartmouth's run towards a spot in the NCAA tournament. The team had to win at least two of the three contests to even be a consideration for an at-large bid, a cumbersome task given their opposition.

Dropping the first game to highly-rated Harvard, the Big Green needed an impressive home sweep of Army and Cornell to have any chance at an NCAA tournament berth. And Dartmouth did just that.

First up on Friday were the Cadets from West Point. Dartmouth grabbed the crucial doubles point by winning the top two pairs spots. The lead was quickly extended to three when Gabe Sauerhoff '99 captured a singles victory in the third spot, followed by a straight set victory by Rob Chen '00 at the No. 5 position. Army began to gather some steam as its No. 6 player dumped Harlan Thompson '01. Army then extended the matches at No. 2 and 4 to a deciding third set, but in the end, both Avery Rueb '98 and Rob Simik '99 won 6-3, putting the Green up 5-2. Top-seeded Erich Holzer '99 was the other one who ran into some trouble. He lost to top cadet Rae Cho in straight sets, 7-6, 6-4.

The Green's second match of the weekend was on Saturday against Ivy League opponent Cornell. Dartmouth wasted no time sending Cornell packing, winning in a 7-0 rout. Dartmouth picked up right where they left off from Friday's strong showing by winning all three double's matches, a first this season. It would be all Green from there. Holzer and Sauerhoff were the first two done with straight set victories.

Simik need three sets to win his match against Greg Artzt, a thrilling affair where the third set was decided in a 12-10 tie-breaker to give Simik the victory.

However, things looked murky for Rueb as he played the last regular season match of his Dartmouth career. He had split the first two sets with Cornell's Russell Gimelstob, brother of pro tennis star Justin Gimelstob, and was down 2-1 in the final set. But in typical Rueb fashion, the senior took his game to the next level and left his freshman opponent in the dust as he went on a five-game run to win in three sets, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

"These last two matches reaffirmed the fact that we can play," Rueb said. "Despite starting the season with a mellow gold disposition, the team seemed to end it with one of an odelay spirit. We dominated Cornell with a manifest destiny-type fervor."

Sauerhoff outlined the reasons for the team's strong play over the weekend on the Topliff courts.

"We needed these two wins for a couple of reasons," he said. "First, there was pride. We know we are a better team than we showed all season, so we wanted to show our capabilities against two decent teams. Second, we still have an outside shot at making the NCAA tournament with those wins, so we were playing to hopefully extend our season."

The late season heroics were set up by the Big Green's struggles against perennial powerhouse Harvard. One year after losing to the Crimson in the first round of the NCAA tourney, Dartmouth was looking to upset the Crimson just to advance into this year's tournament. However, at No. 16 in the most recent national rankings, the Crimson possessed a devastating one-two punch of talented, big- game players that proved to be too much for the Big Green.

The doubles were first to take the courts. Dartmouth's No. 1 and 2 were quickly dismissed 8-2 and 8-1, respectively, yielding the doubles point. But the Green were able to capture the third doubles when Sauerhoff and Rob Chen '00 won, 8-6.

The Green didn't have much better luck in singles. Despite the huge game of Crimson star James Blake, Holzer managed to hold is own at No. 1. He lost the first set, 6-3, but stayed strong in the second, eventually succumbing in a hard fought tie-breaker. The rest of the Green fell in the same fashion with straight set losses.

The lone bright spot of the day was at the fourth seed, where the ever tenacious captain Rueb showed his opponent what mental toughness is all about. Opening up the match, Rueb lost the first set, 6-4. Rueb's fate looked like it would be the same as that of his teammates, but in the second and third sets, he showed how intense his desire to win truly is. Rueb dominated the second set, winning 6-3, and put up the Green's lone point with a 7-5 third set victory. It would not be enough however, as the final tally would show Harvard winning, 6-1.

Still, with the two wins, the Green can still entertain hopes of an NCAA bid which will be announced later this week, although it is highly unlikely with an overall record of 10-7 and a middle of the pack finish in the Ivy League.

"Looking back at the season, the Penn loss really set us back," Holzer commented. "We lost some confidence, which hurt us against Princeton and Yale."

Despite hoping he will play another game in the NCAA tournament, Rueb, the team's lone senior, reminisced about his career.

"My dazed and confused memory might forget some of my four years of college tennis career. In the end, I can safely say that my four years of tennis experiences with this team went over like a lead zeppelin."