Men’s tennis wins Rice Invitational, improves to 11-5 record

by Addison Dick | 4/1/19 2:10am

The men’s tennis team went undefeated in its four spring break matches, winning the 61st Ralph O’Connor Rice Invitational to give the team momentum entering Ivy League play, which begins this weekend. 

The Big Green swept Lamar University without dropping a set to begin spring break play. The team relies on its strong doubles play, and this fact remained true against the Cardinals. In fact, the Big Green did not drop any doubles matches during the four spring break matches.

“We’ve hit our stride here of late, playing really good doubles and being competitive up and down our lineup in singles,” head coach Chris Drake said.

The team has made the most of a tough schedule and losing a few valuable starters to graduation at the end of last season. Drake said he has been proud of the team’s success despite facing challenging opponents.

“I think the team’s dealt well,” Peter Conklin ’21 said. “One of our team strengths is that we compete really hard. If we’re losing, it’s tough to close us out and win the match against us. No one gives up.”

After the Big Green’s win over Lamar, the team then traveled to Houston, Texas to begin play in the Rice Invitational. The Big Green defeated No. 29 Texas Tech University, Utah State University and host Rice University to win the Frank D. Guernsey Jr. and Wilber E. Hess Challenge Cup, jumping from No. 45 to No. 36 in the nation.

In their match against Texas Tech, doubles partners Charlie Broom ’20 and David Horneffer ’20 ­­— ranked 20th nationally — upset a Red Raiders pair that is ranked ninth in the country. That point proved crucial for the Big Green as Dartmouth went on to win the match 4-3.

The following day, the Big Green battled to win 4-3 against Utah State. The Aggies won three of six singles matches, but Dartmouth swept all three doubles matches to help secure the victory. The Big Green had little trouble against Rice, winning all but one match. That victory clinched the tournament title for Dartmouth, which now advances to 11-5 on the season. Drake said this was the first time in his time at Dartmouth that the Big Green has gone undefeated in its spring break matches.

The team now turns its attention towards Ivy League play. Four of the eight Ivy teams are ranked in the ITA Division I rankings, with only No. 13 Columbia University ranked ahead of the Big Green. The Lions and the Big Green shared the Ivy League title last season, and both teams are expected to contend for first place this spring.

“It will be really difficult [to repeat],” Drake said. “I don’t think there’s a ton of pressure. [Columbia] is extremely good again this year, so I think everyone would probably consider them the favorites.”

Conklin said he is happy with the team’s success so far this season and likes where the team is at heading into the Ivy League opener.

“The Ivy League conference is really strong — stronger than ever actually,” he said. “Winning those matches heading into Ivy League play gives us a ton of confidence, but we know we can’t take [our] foot off the gas pedal. I think we’re definitely right in the mix to win the Ivy League title. Having said that, every team is really good.”

Broom said the team’s results from the fall and winter seasons will help the team in Ivy League play.

“We’ve had some close matches that have strengthened the team and brought us closer together. Those matches that we’ve played so far have put us in good position to go on and do well.”

The spring break matches were some of the first outdoor matches for the Big Green, which spends most of the fall and winter seasons playing indoor matches. Drake noted the difficulty and importance of adjusting to outdoor play, with most of the Ivy League matches taking place outdoors.

“The tennis is a little different than inside, where everything is clean and you can play really aggressively,” he said. “Outside, you have to rely on your fitness and being more patient. Last year, I think we were better inside. This year, I think the guys have worked on their fitness and patience and discipline, so it’s made us a more balanced team inside or out.”

Broom said the outdoor success that the team had over spring break gives the team confidence for Ivy League play.

“We don’t usually play outside and we played two teams that play a lot outside all year round, so it shows that we are a pretty versatile group,” Broom said. “We had a lot of close matches there. With the Ivy League season coming up, we’re going to try to play our best matches outdoors, so that gives us a lot of confidence.”

Drake said that the confidence that the team earned from the spring break success will not matter once Ivy League competition begins. 

“I think we’re prepared, but it’s always a bit of a jump in intensity in Ivy League matches because it’s a regular season tournament and all of the matches are so important.”

According to Broom, the team does not feel any added pressure despite entering as defending Ivy League champions. Drake said the team has done a good job of recognizing that it is a new season and understanding that it will have to earn everything.

“We’re definitely up there with the best,” Broom said. “It’s going to be a really high level again this year. I think we’re certainly a contender, but we don’t have added pressure. It’s just going out there and playing and understanding that we’re one of the better teams in the Ivy League, but we still have to go out there and prove it.”

Three of the team’s 10 players are freshmen who will begin Ivy League play for the first time this season. So far, the freshmen have been able to contribute to the team’s success.

“It’s important that they adapt quickly because junior tennis is very different from college tennis,” Broom said. “This year’s freshmen have done really well. Everyone has played their role and played their part. They’ve hit the ground running, which is not easy to do.”

Drake agrees, and said he thinks the newcomers have done a nice job filling the ’18s’ shoes. 

“Whenever you graduate guys who are productive players, it’s tough, but it’s also an opportunity for guys to step into the lineup,” Drake said. “The guys have done a good job stepping up. Our freshmen are another good group, but I think most importantly, they fit in well with the team. All three of them, [Sid Chari ’22, Sacha Pritzker ’22 and Pierce Widdecombe ’22], are hard workers, good competitors and really good teammates, so they’ve added a lot to what we’ve done.”

With the fall and winter seasons as well as the spring break matches in the rearview mirror, the Big Green have set goals of repeating as Ivy League champions and competing again in the NCAA Tournament, according to Broom. Both of those goals were accomplished last year.

“The goal is to win the Ivy League again, which I think we are capable of doing,” Broom said. “Playing in the NCAA Tournament, winning a round, that would be the first time that a Dartmouth team would have won a round at the NCAAs, so that’s certainly another side goal.”

Despite setting those goals at the beginning of the year, Drake said the team does not talk about them frequently. 

“We mostly focus on the things that can give us the best chance to achieve [the goals]. For us, that’s sticking to what we’ve been doing, which is just focusing on having complete, competitive efforts up and down the lineup.”

The Big Green begins Ivy League play this weekend with matches at Princeton University on Saturday and at Pennsylvania University on Sunday. The following weekend, the team will travel to Brown University before hosting Yale University. The Big Green then conclude conference play with three home matches over two weekends against co-defending champion Columbia, Cornell University and Harvard University.

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