With the last event scheduled for the fall season, the men’s tennis team traveled north to take part in the ITA Northeast Regional Championship hosted by Ithaca College. The Regional Championship was a three-day event, beginning on Friday and concluding on Sunday, having both a 64-player singles championship and a 32-team doubles championship. The Lions had success across the board in both singles and doubles competitions, showing their depth and showcasing their top players.
The Lions had six players represent the College in the singles championship, having an impressive four players advance past the first round. Senior TJ Riley was the lone player to make it past the second round, advancing deep into the bracket. Riley’s journey to the quarterfinals involved wins against Union College, Skidmore College and Vassar College. Riley’s toughest win came against third- round opponent Vassar where he went on to win by scores of 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 to advance to the quarterfinals. In the Quarterfinals, Riley fell to another Skidmore opponent, Oliver Loutsenko, who eventually went on to win the entire singles championship.
“I advanced into the final eight because I am a fighter, even when I am down I am certainly not out and I’ve always had that mindset,” Riley said. “I was definitely satisfied with how I played because that is the farthest I ever made it in this tournament and with the quality of tennis players here at regionals the final eight is big-time tennis so I’m proud of that.”
The Lions doubles pairings were equally impressive having three duos represent the College. Senior Jordan Cruz and freshman Billy Buchbinder played spectacularly, upsetting top-seeded Loutsenko and Danny Knight from Skidmore in an epic first round match, winning 9-8 (7-5). The magic didn’t stop there as Cruz and Buchbinder defeated Rensselaer, another top seed in the second round.
“My partner and I were in disbelief, we couldn’t believe that we had done it,” Cruz said. “Right when that last point was over, we both dropped our racquets and did the best chest-bump of our lives. It was a spectacular moment. It was one of the best matches I have ever played.”
On the other side of the bracket, Riley and senior Marc Nichols had one of the best runs in the College’s history in the tournament. The run began with decisive 8-1 victories against Elmira College and Hamilton College. Quarterfinal play had the duo in a thriller against Skidmore College, prevailing 8-6 to push them into the semifinals. In the semifinal match, Riley and Nichols lost in a heartbreaker to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 8-6.
With fantastic performances by Riley, the Lions were also able to have great success as a team. Gutsy performances and talented play highlighted the College’s tennis team throughout the weekend.
“Billy and Jordan had a great tournament in doubles,” Riley said. “They started the tournament by upsetting the number-one seed and they kept it going for another two rounds. I also think Howard Telson had a good singles tournament because even though he lost in the second round, he played a great match against a good player and had many opportunities to win and he deserves credit.”
Last weekend, the College’s top doubles pairing of seniors Paige Aiello and Karisse Bendijo blistered through competition at the ITA Northeast Regionals hosted by William Smith College before losing to sophomores Ava Sadhegi and Samantha Schipiro of Vassar College in the semifinals.
“I’m really proud of the way our team represented ourselves at Regionals this weekend,” Aiello said. “It’s always a great tournament for us and we compete really hard against other top-ranked teams that are there.”
As the third seed, the pairing of Aiello and Bendijo made for one of the most talented doubles partners in the tournament. The pairing from N. J. began tournament play against Bard College and Rochester Institute of Technology, winning decisively by scores of 8-1 and 8-2. In quarterfinal play, Aiello and Bendijo defeated a tough sixth seed in the University of Rochester team, to advance to semifinals. In the semifinals, the duo took on second-seed Vassar College where they fell in a heartbreaking 8-3 defeat. Vassar went on to defeat host William Smith to win the championship.
“I enjoyed playing doubles with Karisse and was sad to see us not make it to the final, but the Vassar team deserved the title,” Aiello said. “In the three years I’ve played at this tournament, I’d say it was the most competitive it’s ever been because there were so many more strong players than in years past.”
While it may seem that Aiello and Bendijo faced little adversity through the tournament, adapting was difficult for the pair. Having to adjust to various conditions, surfaces and opponents is something you cannot teach in practice. In fact, nothing can simulate actual game play, making game time adjustments a tough thing to do.
“It is a little tough to adjust,” said Bendijo. “Everyone has a different style, some are just really difficult to play. Also, it’s tough to adjust to the windiness and cold up in Geneva.”
Advancing to the semifinals against the top teams in the Northeast was one of the most impressive finishes in the College’s illustrious tennis history. Finishing their last ITA tournament as collegians, Aiello and Bendijo couldn’t have asked for a better end to their fall season. Hours of hard work and having success to show are a true testament of their ability and character, which reflects the College’s tennis program.
“I left everything on the court and I have nothing to regret of my last year there,” Bendijo said.