The average sports fan may feel as if it’s his or her prerogative to cite weather as the foul villain responsible for a favorite team’s loss.

Perhaps it’s only appropriate that the Flower City Tournament’s overcast conditions stopped the men’s tennis team from photosynthesizing though the ‘Jackets dominated Ithaca College, the men had trouble containing Skidmore College’s Thoroughbreds.
But perhaps the most appropriate plant analogy for the Yellowjackets might be that the team just needed a little watering and will bloom in time for its next match.

Watering is precisely what kept the tournament inside on Saturday as the Hill Court area sat drenched from Friday night’s storm, but the sun still seemed to shine on the Yellowjackets. Junior Brian Bowman, one of last season’s significant stalwarts, thundered onto the No. 1 doubles court with sophomore Ryan Kovaleski.

Sophomore powerhouse Patrick Sheehan accompanied junior Adam Crosby onto the No. 3 doubles court, and freshmen hopefuls Brian Schmeer and Alex Magill attempted to break onto the scene on the No. 2 doubles court.

On the No. 3 court, Sheehan and Crosby could have flown to China, walked the entire length of the Great Wall, flown back, thrown an eloquent box social, cured cancer and still have managed to crush Ithaca: they shot down the Bombers’ sophomore Dan Adelman and senior Andrew Dunnick, 8-1.

On the No. 1 court, Bowman and Kovaleski started at much the same pace, pouncing upon numerous openings granted by the admirable duo of Ithaca sophomore Josh Rifkin and junior Taylor Borda. But after taking the set to 4-1, Bowman and Kovaleski seemed to lose their groove, with Bowman making several unforced errors and Kovaleski overpowering the ball, allowing Rifkin-Borda to bring the set back to even keel at 4-4.

On the No. 2 court, meanwhile, Schmeer and Magill were in the opposite position. Freshmen and rivals Jimmy Newton and Mike Muraco outclassed the ‘Jackets on every point and had a nice glimpse of victory.

Enter Matt Nielsen. The new head coach and former high school tennis wunderkind kneeled down for a chat with the faltering freshmen at a break, and no sooner did play resume than the ‘Jackets roared back with four game wins. Eventually, however, the pair succumbed to the grace of Newton and Muraco, settling for 5-8.

Nielsen’s attention then turned to the Bowman and Kovaleski meltdown in a set that represented so much of what this team is. When Kovaleski smashed a ball out of bounds that by no rights should have left play, he hung down his head as Nielsen looked on, a slight hint of a smile on his face. When Bowman committed error after error, no one seemed more upset than the junior ‘Jacket himself. And though Nielsen showed obvious concern, what seemed evident from the sidelines is something far more important understanding.

Nielsen displays an empathy unseen in many coaches and a compassion that shines through the darker moments of play. He demonstrates an easy rapport with his students as they sit on the sidelines and cheer each other on. Frankly, he gets it these players know what they’re doing, understand their mistakes and can adjust. And as he talked with

Bowman and Kovaleski during their own set recess, one can only imagine them realizing it for themselves. The dynamic duo got up, countered their foes with a show that redefined finesse and finally broke their opponents to win the set, 9-7.

That drive and ability to correct their play may very well carry the men’s tennis team much further than they might expect. UR rebounded from a tough loss to Skidmore all but the Bowman-Kovaleski team lost to Skidmore, and Bowman’s singles match was unresolved with a 5-3 victory over St. Lawrence University on Sunday to take third place in the tournament.

With a 2-1 record, there’s plenty of time for these players to invigorate themselves and their coach will be there to make sure it happens.

Brenneman is a member of the class of 2009.

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