Men’s tennis battles hard despite three consecutive Ivy League losses

In the last two weeks, the Big Green fell to No. 15 Harvard University, No. 58 Cornell University and No. 23 Columbia University.

by Stephanie Sowa | 4/15/22 2:00am

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The men’s tennis team is off to a solid 6-0 start this season.

by Kyle Spencer / The Dartmouth

Men’s tennis has commenced the 2022 Ivy League season. Currently, the Big Green is 8-9 and 0-3 in conference matches. The team started its Ivy League play on April 2 against the only three nationally ranked Ivy League teams: No. 15 Harvard University, No. 58 Cornell University and No. 23 Columbia University. The team fell in a 7-0 loss to Harvard, followed by a 4-1 loss to Cornell and a 7-0 loss to Columbia on April 9 and 10, respectively. 

While the team was not able to secure a point against Harvard, head coach Xander Centenari ’13 felt the men brought resilience to the competition.

“Our guys are fighting hard and we are playing some really good doubles,” Centenari said. “It hasn’t quite shown but we are playing very close… we just can’t quite put it together at the same time.”

Pierce Widdecombe ’22 and Alex Knox-Jones ’25 engaged in a tight doubles battle against their Harvard counterparts in the second position, losing the first set of the unfinished match 5-3. Logan Chang ’24 and his doubles partner, Andy Ilie ’24, had a close 6-4 loss in the third doubles spot. While Chang grew up in New York and Ilie in Connecticut, the two have known each other throughout high school tennis.

“We’re the same year, and we grew up playing with each other before college too,” said Chang about Ilie. “We just started playing doubles actually this season with our first match against Harvard.”

Following the Harvard match, this past weekend the Big Green played two more Ivy matches away: Cornell on April 9 and Columbia on April 10. 

“We’ve now played eight matches in a row on the road, and this is the type of challenge that we as a program embrace, but it certainly hasn’t been easy playing at different sites and competing against really high level teams,” Centenari said.

Dartmouth fell to Cornell 4-1, which was an improvement from the 7-0 loss to Harvard. Chang and Ilie secured a 6-3 win over Cornell in the third doubles position, while Knox-Jones had a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Cornell’s Evan Bynoe in the fourth singles spot.

“We don’t start singles strongly enough: We lose a lot of first sets unfortunately, but then we always seem to fight back in the second set,” Knox-Jones said. “It’s a pretty comfortable first set and then a close second set, so we can fight back when our backs are against the wall, making it tough for our opponents.”

The following day, Columbia defeated the Big Green 7-0 for Dartmouth’s third consecutive Ivy League loss. Widdecombe and Knox-Jones triumphed over the Kotzen and Ruger doubles partners with an impressive 6-3 win in the second doubles position. As for the singles, Dartmouth was not able to secure any wins, but Dominik Pauli ’23 narrowly lost his match with a score of 6-4, 6-4. 

“Each match, we’ve gotten better at starting during the doubles point… but we just need to be able to close out,” Knox-Jones said. “We’ve had some match points that we’ve lost, but it’s a positive that we’re getting closer.” 

The beginning of this season has been a challenging one. According to Knox-Jones, he views Harvard and Columbia as the two best teams in the conference, which poses difficulties for starting strong as a young team. He added that the team is placing emphasis on gaining necessary experience this season in order to flourish in the future. 

“We have three freshmen playing, a couple of sophomores, two juniors and we only lose one guy [next year],” said Knox-Jones. “Hopefully, if we can learn some valuable lessons this year, then next year we will be in a much better position to do some damage winning matches.”

Chang noted that these high-level teams are providing a good benchmark of where Dartmouth stands in the league and what the team can strive for in its upcoming competitions. Centenari said he is focused on improving week by week in practice.

“We continue to find higher and higher levels of focus in practice and an ability to prepare and be ready for the weekend,” Centenari said.

Looking ahead, the Big Green will finally play some home matches in Hanover. Depending on the weather, the matches will either be inside at the Boss Tennis Center or on Dartmouth’s outdoor courts. The Big Green will face the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday, April 16 followed by Princeton University on Saturday, April 17. These are two of the four remaining Ivy League matches for Dartmouth. 

“We are looking to come into every weekend as prepared as we can be, focusing on the things we can control, playing with great energy, toughness and belief, and coming out and competing hard,” said Centenari. “If we do that, the score will take care of itself.”

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