Well, the men’s tennis team certainly proved this weekend that it likes to make things exciting. Just a week after an inspired victory over Swarthmore College – a win that included a trio of three-set matches – the Yellowjackets once again found themselves fighting an uphill battle and, just as before, displayed the heart and mental strength to pull out the win. Still hyped following a decisive pair of wins last weekend that moved UR into striking distance of a Nationals bid, the Yellowjackets came back and faced off against two higher-ranked opponents, Wesleyan College and Amherst College. Once again, UR showed it has what it takes to make a run during Nationals.

The weekend started off roughly, when the team squared off against No. 7 Wesleyan and quickly found itself trailing 1-3, winning only the doubles point before dropping three singles matches.

“They always got the ball back and it frustrated us a little,” freshman Josh Bruce-Black said.

Head coach Chris O’Brien agreed. “Wesleyan was very, very consistent,” he said. “The term we’d use for them is ‘pushers.’ They didn’t miss many balls and just kept the ball going.”

In addition to Wesleyan’s challenging style of play, the Yellowjackets also had to deal with the knowledge that they were playing in two essential matches on the road. “Its always hard to play your best tennis on the road, in conditions that are different from the ones that we are used to,” sophomore Avinash Reddy said, who had an undefeated weekend at first singles. “Especially in a must-win situation like this last weekend where we knew that one loss would put us out of nationals.”

Despite the intimidating conditions that they faced, UR remained undeterred. Junior Dan Williford stepped up, yet again, in what may have been one of the most crucial matches for the team.

Knowing that UR was down 1-3 overall, and facing a deficit of 4-5 while already down a set himself, Williford managed to focus and climb out of the hole, eventually winning his match in three sets. Similarly, Reddy and sixth singles player Eric Prince all held on to win their matches in three sets, and the Yellowjackets found themselves victorious yet again, ultimately edging Wesleyan out 4-3.

The next day provided a far more relaxed match against Amherst, a team that was ranked higher than, yet fell victim to a resounding 6-1 beating by the Yellowjackets.

“Against Amherst we just stayed on top of them the whole match, all the way down the lineup, and didn’t let up,” Reddy said of the decidedly less exciting victory.

Williford agreed that the momentum they had from the previous day gave them a boost.

“Sunday we came out pretty fired up,” he remarked. “We only needed to win one more match to earn a trip to Nationals, so we came right out and demolished them.”

All that remains now is a tense wait for the rankings and National bids to be announced, which the team expects any time this week.

“This last weekend should remove all doubts from the seeding committee that we deserve to be there at Nationals,” Reddy said. As far as whether or not the team is ready, optimism seems to be widespread. “In the beginning of the season, we were losing a lot of the three set matches – now we’re winning most of them,” observed Bruce-Black, who plays fourth singles and second doubles. “I think we have a good chance to do well at Nationals.”

O’Brien agreed, noting that, “Right now we’re winning big matches and starting to realize that we can beat a lot of these teams.”

Meanwhile, as they wait for the word on Nationals, the Yellowjackets will be redirecting their focus towards the upcoming University Athletic Association Championships at Washington University in St. Louis this weekend. UR enters the tournament with a No. 3 seed and will meet Case Western Reserve University in its first match. After that, the team hopes to be headed to Nationals, where UR would be playing for the first time since 2001, when it lost to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the first round. “I’m looking forward to going to Nationals,” O’Brien said.

Janowitz can be reached at njanowitz@campustimes.org

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