Both the Swarthmore men’s and women’s tennis teams handily won their first Centennial Conference matches of the season this week, taking down Ursinus and Muhlenberg, respectively, both by a score of 9-0.
The men, ranked 27th nationally, improved their overall record to 4-5 in the win over the Bears. Contributing with particularly strong performances were James Wieler ’13, Anthony Collard ’14, Max Kaye ’14, Preston Poon ’14 and Max Sacks ’15. All five won both their singles match and a doubles match, while Matt Hirsh ’16 notched his first career conference win, 6-4, 6-1, and Daniel Park ’14 teamed with Wieler to win a doubles match, 8-3. The doubles sweep was particularly impressive for a group who struggled in doubles matches during its spring break tournament in California. Team captain Malik Mubeen ’13 recognized that “we need to improve our doubles play going forward” and described the Ursinus sweep as a “great combined effort by all three doubles teams.”
The team’s sub-.500 record is misleading, due to the incredibly difficult schedule the team faced in California. Playing in a tournament at Pomona-Pitzer, Swarthmore was subjected to a gauntlet of top-ranked teams, making the team’s performance significantly more impressive than indicated by their sixth place finish in the eight team tournament. As Mubeen explained, “This tournament consisted of the #1, 2, 4, 5, 12, 22, 25, 27 teams in the country. Getting a win in the tournament against such brutal competition was pretty cool for our program. The win over Pomona-Pitzer on their home courts in front of their fans is definitely one of the notable highlights of my tennis career.”
Head coach Mike Mullan spoke about the importance of playing against such difficult competition: “During our spring break trip to Southern California, we have always tried to schedule the top competition in tennis. This year we played, for example, Kenyon and Emory, ranked 1 and 2 in Division III. Our students often rise to this level of opposition and learn from these matches.”
As the season continues, Swarthmore will look to approach its goal of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. For Wieler, making the NCAA tournament would be a culmination of a successful career: “For four years, it’s been my dream to compete as a team in the NCAA tournament.”
The first step in this process for the Garnet will be to defeat perennial powerhouse Johns Hopkins on Saturday at Swarthmore. Mubeen described the match as “our biggest of the year,” adding that “we’re going to try to give them all they can handle.”
The women’s team opened its conference slate in equally dominant fashion, dispatching of McDaniel, 9-0, bringing its overall record to 3-1. The team’s only loss came against Division I Navy, meaning the team remains undefeated against Division III competition.
Like the men, the women recognized the value of playing such difficult competition. Kelsey Johnson ’13, explained, “These matches were good for us because there really wasn’t any pressure.” Head coach Jeremy Loomis added, “having tough matches during spring break can really help us improve and be ready for the conference schedule.”
Swarthmore received strong contributions from several players in the win over McDaniel. Nine Garnet players notched victories, with Stephanie Chia ’13, Epiphany English ’14 and Gayatri Iyengar ’15 winning both their singles and doubles matches. Also victorious on the day were Katie Samuelson ’14, Brooke Wilkins ’14, Jackie Lane ’16, Emily Rosenblum ’13, Lia Carlson ’14 and Johnson. Loomis was impressed with his team’s ability to perform well in spite of the elements, saying, “We did a good job of coming out on a rather cold day and played quality points despite our physical disadvantages.”
The team goals for the rest of the season are, in Johnson’s words, “to stay focused, play well and have fun.” She highlighted Friday’s match against Mary Washington as a good test for the Garnet, explaining that “It is a really tough match every year.” Loomis added that the team hopes to “qualify for the conference playoffs and make it to the championship round.”
Perennially two of the College’s strongest teams, the men’s and women’s tennis teams again figure to be competitive in the Centennial Conference and beyond this season. Upcoming home matches include April 6, 7, 9 and 13 for the women. The men play host to Johns Hopkins on Saturday (March 30) at 12PM, in a match that will have major conference implications.