Things seem to be falling into place this weekend for Penn men’s tennis.
Originally slated to head up to Columbia for this weekend’s Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament, trouble with the Lions’ indoor facility meant an alternate site was needed.
That’s when Penn coach David Geatz offered up the Hecht Tennis Center, where his Quakers (2-4, 0-0 Ivy) have gone undefeated so far in 2016.
But it gets even better for the Red and Blue. Not only is senior captain Vim De Alwis ready to go after missing most of the season recovering from a knee injury, but freshman Dmitry Shatalin is also now eligible to play after sitting out the first part of the year due to NCAA rules regarding international players.
Although the Quakers dropped a pair of matches on the road last weekend, they’ll offer up an almost entirely retooled lineup for ECACs.
“We played with a big chunk of our starting lineup really not able to play because we’ve had some injuries, some bad injuries with the guys at the top of our lineup,” Geatz explained. “But we should — I’m hoping we’re going to be full strength for this tournament. I think we’ll be a completely different team.”
De Alwis’ return will be critical if Penn has a shot at taking down Dartmouth in the first round of the tournament on Friday.
With the senior captain largely absent for the start of the season, the Red and Blue have been forced to rely on some younger players at the top of the ladder — including freshman Kyle Mautner, who secured at pair of wins at No. 1 for the Quakers in Virginia a week ago.
But as Penn enters ECACs, it will need senior leadership to make a deep tournament run, meaning Mautner and sophomore Josh Pompan may get moved down for the weekend.
“We can’t afford to lose Vim,” Geatz said. “I mean he’s one of our team captains and not only the team captain and a leader but he’s also one of our best players.
“And this is a tough sport because if you lose a guy at place one or two it just doesn’t affect his one match but it means everybody else has to play up a spot higher, so you lose the one guy then potentially it sets off six matches.”
It will take three matches over three days to potentially win the ECAC Tournament, and that road for the Quakers starts with Dartmouth (5-3, 0-0).
The Big Green, ranked No. 34 in the nation, also represent a significant hurdle as the Red and Blue look at the bigger picture.
“One of our goals is to be the first team in Penn history to qualify for the NCAA Championship and we have a chance to do that,” Geatz said.
“We play a team that’s one of the top 30 teams in the country, Dartmouth. ... And I think it’ll be real powerful to see where we’re at if we beat them, you know, we beat Dartmouth, we go on, and I think it’s going to be a really cool interesting match.”
For the Quakers, the road to NCAAs starts with the Big Green. They’ll need strong performances from Mautner, Pompan and De Alwis — who Geatz sees as being at about “90 percent” heading into the weekend.
Still, the Red and Blue are finally fielding a healthy squad, and their coach is hopeful that can last.
“Can we do that three days in a row without someone getting hurt? I hope so. But that might be tough for us. I don’t know if Vim can make three straight days of play.”
In order to necessitate a third day of play, however, Penn will have to get past the Big Green.
And with an all-new lineup in the mix, the outcome of the match is anything but set.
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