This past weekend, the Vassar men’s tennis team competed at the Mary Washington Tournament in Fredericksburg, Va. On Saturday, the men were shut out 9-0 by the host University of Mary Washington, who, at the time, was ranked #28 in the country. That same afternoon, the Brewers staged a 5-4 upset over #20 North Carolina Wesleyan College. The highlight of that match came when No. 3 Christian Phelps came back from being down 5-2 in the third set to win 6-3, 6-7, 7-5. On the second day of the tournament, the team lost to Denison University 8-1. Freshman Nick Litsky won the only match for the Brewers at number two singles 6-1, 6-4. Sophomore captains Daniel Cooper and Christian Phelps lost a very close number one doubles match 9-8 (8-2).
“We had a successful tournament at Mary Washington. We were excited to play against some nationally ranked teams. We are obviously most thrilled with our win over NC Wesleyan, a nationally ranked opponent. The team came out playing great doubles and that carried into our singles,” wrote Head Coach Alex Wong. “Our top three players, Cooper, Litsky and Phelps came up with good singles wins, two of which were extremely close. Litsky set the tone with a decisive win, and Cooper and Phelps battled to win two close three set matches to give us the win. We will look to continue to improve as we have tough matches against Brandeis and rival Skidmore upcoming.”
The other members of the team certainly share optimism for this year. “We have had a good start of the season,” wrote Coach Wong. “The team has been working hard and the hard work paid off in our first two matches of the season. We obviously had to take a little time to adapt to the new circumstances with me coming in as the new coach but the team has responded well.”
Up until now, the team has faced relatively easy opponents and have performed well against them, but the schedule is going to get significantly more difficult. The players are going to have to work extremely hard to finish the season strong, but if they can do so, the season could be a success, despite the lack of experience. Sophomore Sean Hoy-Skubik says, “This season is about growth. We lost four key seniors, our coach and assistant coach from last year and have no seniors this year. As a young, relatively inexperienced team we have to rely on hard work and team unity. Fortunately, everyone on the team is ready to step up and work hard and knows what needs to be done. We had relatively easy matches for our first four wins, but in the coming months, we start to come up against ranked teams and will be tested on how hard we are willing to work.”
Despite their inexperience, the team still holds itself to a high standard and has lofty goals for this spring. Cooper wants to see the team make it to post-season play; “Our primary goal is to get better every day and be able to see these improvements from week to week. Further down the road, our goal is to repeat as Liberty League champions and win a round in the NCAA tournament.”
Cooper’s teammates are all in agreement. They see themselves repeating this year as Liberty League champions. Hoy-Skubik states, “Our goal is to repeat as liberty league champions. Skidmore and RPI will pose big threats to our title defense, so what we do and how we improve in the coming months will be crucial.”
In order to achieve these end of season goals, the men’s tennis team must focus on gradually making improvements each week. Coach Wong says, “Having come off a lot of success last year, I know the team is eager to continue that success. However, we try to stay focused on each practice and the next upcoming match as our goal is to improve each day. I personally do not have any individual goals. I am, however, always wanting for each player to achieve their own personal goals and I want to help them as much as possible to do that.”
Tennis is an individual sport, so the players also set goals for themselves. Describing his individual goals, Cooper says, “Individually, I hope to get better every day and become more confident in my game. I want to knock off at least 1 nationally ranked opponent in both singles and doubles.”
Although the team is young this year, they have a solid dynamic.
Coach Wong describes this year’s group as one of the most closely-knit teams of which he has ever been a part; “The team dynamic is strong. I have coached many tight teams but this is up there as one of the closest group that I have been a part of. They genuinely care about each other and about the success of the team. Since I have only been here since the start of this semester, I can only reference the two matches of this young season. We have already had many contributors and we will continue to rely upon everybody to contribute to the success of the team.”
The players agree. Hoy-Skubik has enjoyed the team spirit at Vassar. “The team dynamic is incredible. Tennis is a very individualized sport, but our sense of family makes us aware that any improvements we make on our own game is for the benefit of the whole team. In high school, it often felt like you were out there battling by yourself, but here we all have each others back.”
Even though the team doesn’t have many upperclassmen to look up to, they have still managed to honor some of the bonding traditions from years past.
Sophomore Evan Udine says, “We like to uphold the social, spiritual, and physical aspects of team bonding.”