Men’s tennis wraps up stellar season at NCAA tournament

by Mark Cui | 5/18/16 5:15pm

On May 14, the Dartmouth men’s tennis team lost to No. 31 Tulane University 0-4 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Prior to playing Tulane, the team was on a red hot six-game win streak that began on April 3, having defeated all seven of the other Ivies except Columbia University, to whom the team lost 2-4 on April 2. The loss to Tulane marked the end of an overall strong season. The team went 18-9 in the regular season, and finished in second in the Ivy League behind Columbia with a 6-1 conference record, losing only to the undefeated Lions. The team also made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1997.

“It was a great feeling to make the tournament after 19 years. It was an amazing honor to be on this team. We really deserved if after being so close for a couple of years in a row,” Dovydas Sakinis ’16 said. “Although we didn’t make it far, it was a great experience for the team moving forward.”

Earlier in the season on Jan. 31, the Big Green defeated Tulane in a close 4-3 victory at home. But the conditions were very different, as that was indoors and on home turf. This time, Tulane, which boasts one of the top players in the country in No. 3 singles player Dominik Koepfer, came out firing from the beginning, going 2-0 in doubles. However, despite Tulane’s fast start, Dartmouth remained resilient, and the lopsided score belied just how close the match was.

“It was a really great fight. Both teams played well. Credit to Tulane, they had an amazing start and an amazing match overall. Guys fought really hard,” Sakinis said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get a win, but I think we were so close to turning things around.”

In doubles, Tulane’s duos of Kopefer and Chin-Shan Jao and Sebastian Rey and Ian Van Cott defeated both Dartmouth’s Brendan Tannenbaum ’16 and George Wall ’17, and Sakinis and Max Fliegner ’18 6-3. The final partnership of Max Schmidt ’17 and Roko Glasnovic ’19 was in a close 4-5 battle when the match was called off after Tulane secured the doubles point.

On the singles side, Tulane went 3-0 despite a late surge by Dartmouth. Dartmouth’s Wall lost to Rey 2-6, 3-6, and Eddie Grabill ’19 lost to Tyler Schick 5-7, 3-6. After falling 6-0 in the first set, Ciro Riccardi ’18 came back to win the second set 7-5. However, he ultimately fell in the third set 2-6. With the three singles points and the doubles point, Tulane clinched the match. Schmidt, Fliegner and Sakinis were all in the midst of their third sets when the matches were cancelled.

“I think it was a great experience for our team who really deserved it and something very valuable for our program that continues to build,” Tannenbaum said. “It was a great time for all the players as we were able to play at a nice facility and enjoy the experience as much as we could.”

Sakinis attributes the team’s leap forward this season to head coach Chris Drake’s winning mentality.

“Chris just did a very good job of changing the mentality of the team, and the standards of the team,” Sakinis said. “It’s definitely not the last time the team will be playing in the NCAA tournament, and hopefully guys in the future will continue to achieve more.”

Two members of the team, Sakinis and Tannenbaum, played their final collegiate game last Saturday. For Sakinis, getting to Dartmouth and playing on the tennis team were two steps in a long journey that ultimately changed him as a person.

“To get to Dartmouth I had to fight for two years with the admissions. I was so happy they finally gave me an admission letter,” Sakinis said. “I couldn’t compete my first year due to some amateur and professionalism issues. It was so hard to keep the motivation to practice. After I began competing sophomore year, everything changed, [and] I was more into team things, and I changed as a person. By this year, I changed a lot. I was able to achieve a lot of things former players couldn’t do. Hopefully, the guys will break all of my achievements, and I hope for the best for the team.”

Sakinis also fondly recalled some of the highlights from his four years as a member of the team, saying that the best moments were winning the regionals this season and playing in the United States Tennis Association National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship

“[The National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship] felt like an [Association of Tennis Professionals] event,” Sakinis said. “It was a great experience fighting against the best players in the nation.”

Sakinis added that beating Harvard University two years in a row after not beating the Crimson since 1993 was another high.

Both players have been fixtures in the lineup since coming to Dartmouth. The team hopes to fill in both the leadership void and their top-notch play on the court.

“It’s a big loss to lose Dovydas and Brendan,” Drake said. “They’ve played on such a high level for us. Both have clinched many matches for us. Both have grown as great leaders [that are] committed not only to their own games but also to the team’s. Hopefully we will have guys that will step up and fill up that leadership void. On the court, we have a lot of good players, and there will be guys who will be excited to move up higher on the lineup. We also have two good freshmen coming in who are good players who will be anxious to try to get into the lineup as well. Hopefully this will continue to propel us forward despite losing two great players and leaders.”

The team looks forward to building off the superb season. The biggest takeaway was to focus and do well on the aspects of the game that the team could control.“

When we were at our best this season, we were taking care of the things we could control very well,” Drake said. “When we’re able to do that, we can compete with teams in the top 25 in the country.”