Anxious to snap a five-match losing streak, Penn men’s tennis faced off against St. John’s at home on Wednesday before wrapping its Ancient Eight slate this coming weekend.
However, in a tough ending to the nonconference season, the Quakers were unable to notch a win against the Red Storm (10-8), falling by a score of 5-2 for the third consecutive match.
While it hoped to develop momentum from the match’s outset, Penn (14-9, 0-5 Ivy) lost the doubles point early by dropping two of its three matches by identical 8-4 margins. Despite finding themselves in a hole early on, the Quakers were able to take some solace from the doubles round after a comeback victory from juniors Austin Kaplan and Blaine Willenborg, who trailed early on.
“Blaine and I were down 6-3 in doubles, and we won the last five games,” Kaplan said. “We had been playing well the last few weeks, and we weren’t going to back down today.”
Kaplan supplemented his strong doubles play with a stellar performance in singles, winning straight sets at the No. 6 spot, 6-4, 6-2.
The Quakers’ only other point for the day came from sophomore Matt Nardella, who finally came out on top after a topsy-turvy,three-set affair.
After blowing past his Red Storm competitor with a 6-2 victory to open things up, he gave up a crucial lead in the second set, falling 5-7. The third set featured a substantial amount of back-and-forth play, but Nardella was able to close it out with an emphatic 6-4 victory.
The Manlius, N.Y. native credited coach David Geatz with giving him the necessary guidance to finish off with a win.
“I talked to my coach, and he said that if I stayed focused in the last few games of the third set, things would go my way,” Nardella said. “Fortunately, that’s what happened.”
In the team’s first nonconference loss since March 13, senior captain Jeremy Court suffered a tough three-set loss at No. 1 singles, 7-5, 4-6, 0-6. Additionally, Willenborg, freshman Josh Pompan and sophomore Marshall Sharp lost their matches at the second, third and fifth positions, respectively.
The coming weekend marks the final leg of the season for the Quakers, who are determined to earn their first Ivy league victory of the year against 48th-ranked Cornell on Friday at home, before heading out to New York to face No. 23 Columbia (12-5, 5-0) on Sunday.
With only two days left before Penn faces the Big Red (11-7, 3-3), Geatz wants his players to focus on resting their bodies in anticipation of the upcoming match.
“We are only going to have about an hour of practice,” Geatz said. “This far into the season, it is important that every player has fresh legs.”
Hopefully that strategy will pay off this weekend for Penn, who will need to be at the top of its game against another round of stiff competition.
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