By Connor Smith
Social Media Editor
The men’s tennis team (7-5) hit a major speed bump in its quest for an NCAA Division III (D-III) Tournament bid. The Lions lost their matchup with North Carolina Wesleyan College on Tuesday, April 12, which casted doubt on the team’s qualification prospects.
Despite the loss, the men’s team nurtured its playoff hopes with victories over Lafayette University — a Division I competitor — on Thursday, April 21, and Christopher Newport University on Sunday, April 17.
The women’s team — which already qualified for NCAA’s through its New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title — lost its final match of the regular season on Wednesday, April 13, against New York University.
“Morale is pretty high,” junior Mike Stanley said. “I don’t think it’ll ever be higher than it is right now.”
The men’s team was confident with a 2-1 lead after doubles competition on Wednesday against North Carolina Wesleyan College. This sense of security proved false, as junior Jack August salvaged the team’s only win in singles, which brought the final score to 6-3 in favor of North Carolina Wesleyan.
“We have a very talented group,” head coach Scott Dicheck said. “We go through ups and downs, and I think what it’s shown is that our guys… even when we’ve gone through a bad period, we’ve stepped up and the guys are wanting to end the season strong.”
The Lions did just that against the Lafayette University Leopards. A sweep of the doubles competition netted them one match point, while every doubles competitor, excluding freshman Matt Puig, fired back to compete and win in singles competition.
“I think that kick-started us for (Sunday),” Dicheck said. “We had a tough loss on Tuesday, so to beat them on Thursday helped us move into today’s match.”
With a renewed sense of confidence, the College’s postseason hopes depended on its match against Christopher Newport.
The doubles competition was tightly contested. August and Stanley continued to sparkle on court one, earning their team-leading ninth win of the season, 8-6. Senior Pierce Cooper and freshman Mitchell Sanders overcame an early 3-4 deficit to notch an 8-6 win of their own. Finally, the freshmen duo of Puig and Tim Gavornik increased their winning streak to four games with an 8-4 win.
Knowing that no lead is safe, the Lions were more concerned with winning the match than the prospects of a shutout. This mentality helped carve out the occurrence of both.
Cooper passed ’06 alum Cory Hall for fourth in all-time combined wins with his win at No. 125 in straight sets on court one. Stanley — with the knowledge that his win would clinch the match for the Lions — dropped the first set, 6-1.
“I had a scouting report from one of my coaches,” Stanley said. “He told me the kid was going to play the game I like to play against, but when he came out, he was playing really well.”
Stanley knew how important this match was for his team. Following his disappointing opening, the junior regrouped and snagged the final two sets, 6-2, clinching a Lions victory.
“He whooped my ass in the first set,” Stanley said. “I refocused and got my feet started working for every ball.”
The Lions continued rolling on courts one through four, as they racked up all seven wins with courts five and six still in action.
Sophomore Chris D’Agostino and Gavornik were locked in third-set tiebreakers on adjacent courts. Fans and players of both teams poured into the nearby bleachers to witness two of the closest matches of the day.
“He was very consistent, very quick, kind of like myself,” Gavornik said of his opponent. “We play a similar game, so it was just a matter of who could execute a little bit better.”
As the sun beat down on the day’s final matchups, both athletes tried desperately to end the day on a positive note. Fortunately for the Lions, that came when D’Agostino rallied to win a seemingly endless tiebreaker, 6-4, 6-2, 17-15. With a refreshing burst of energy, Gavornik fed off his teammate’s win to clinch a Lions shutout with a 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 10-7 victory.
“Even though the match was decided, you could see (D’Agostino and Gavornik) fighting like the match was one the line,” Dicheck said. “Just beating them would’ve been great, but to win, 9-0, and have everyone fight through some tough times and having everybody step up will hopefully kick-start us for NCAAs.”
After their win over Christopher Newport University— who beat top-ranked opponents such as Johns Hopkins University — the Lions’s path to the postseason is clear: They must win versus Ursinus College on Tuesday, April 19, and against Vassar College on Wednesday, April 20, to have any hope of making the tournament.
“We gotta take care of business against Ursinus,” Gavornik said. “We can’t get too caught up in this win.”