A trip to the Wild West for Penn men’s and women’s tennis proved to be just that — wild.
With five teams on the docket — four of which were ITA-ranked — the men's side ventured to Colorado and California to play out a very busy spring break schedule. Their time in the sun, however, resulted in few bright spots as the Red and Blue fell to all of their ranked opponents. Utah, San Diego and San Diego State all beat Penn with 5-2 scores, while Denver took all the singles matches against the Quakers to win, 6-1.
A 6-1 win against Air Force broke up the monotony of consecutive losses, coming perfectly in the middle of the five-match trip. But the lone win was not the level of success the team had been looking for, especially given the high hopes at the beginning of the season.
Although the field of competition was stiff — most notably in the form of the No. 29 Toreros — Penn’s biggest enemy came in the form of injuries.
“Obviously I was really disappointed,” coach David Geatz said. “It wasn’t how hard we competed that disappointed, but I think we took a step backwards a little bit because we just got people hurt.”
Atop the injured list sits freshman Kyle Mautner, who according to Geatz is nursing a foot injury that forced him to retire after going down 5-1 against the Aztecs last Friday.
Geatz places a lot of emphasis on the health of his players, namely Mautner, who has played at the top of the ladder for the Red and Blue all season. Last week, the Greenwich, Conn., native lost all of his matches in straight sets aside from a 6-2, 6-2 win against Air Force.
“Some of our very best players are hurt,“ Geatz said. “If you look at our scores, Kyle Mautner really can’t play. He’s got something with his foot, and he played anyway.”
Senior Vim De Alwis faced a similar story over the week, losing all but the Air Force match at the number two position for the Quakers.
“For us to be good, our top players have to be healthy,” Geatz said. “If they are, we’re good. So that was discouraging to see Kyle not really be able to play and Vim not really be able to play.”
According to Geatz, the last time Penn fielded a completely healthy roster came over a month ago when it defeated No. 34 Dartmouth at the ECAC Tournament hosted in University City.
Given that taste of victory, Geatz believes that his squad can accomplish big things when Ivy play begins in April, should it be healthy.
“We have the potential to be one of the best teams Penn has ever had,” he said. "But we got a little injury blocked.”
But even in its current weakened state, the Quakers can find some solace in the current form of their doubles play. In three of their four losses, the Red and Blue successfully took the lone doubles point as senior Blaine Willenborg and sophomore Gabriel Rapoport stepped up for the team.
“Doubles was a bright spot,” Geatz said. “But in order for us to be a competitive team in the Ivy League, we have to have our top players in the lineup be healthy. It’s tough.”
Fittingly, tough is a word that can be used to describe the entirety of Penn’s season whether it be in the resolve of the players, the difficulty of the schedule or the severity of the injuries. But with a couple weeks’ hiatus before competitive play resumes, the team will take a break from that tough mentality and rest up, seeking to mend its wounds before facing Yale on April 2.
As Geatz puts it: “The team has to step up and get healthy.”
While the men battled in the Wild West, the women’s tennis squad went to the Southwest and competed against four different teams in Texas over the course of the week.
Unfortunately, the Quakers (6-6) toiled in the Texas heat as they dropped three of their four matches, two of which were decided by a single point. 4-3 losses to North Texas and UT-Arlington left the team annoyingly close to enjoying a successful week.
They ended the trip, however, with a 4-3 win over No. 55 Rice, the highest-ranked team that the Quakers have beaten so far this season. Penn struggled in the beginning of the day, with all three doubles teams falling behind early to the Owls. Ultimately, though, the Quakers showed enough resilience to make their stand in the land of the Alamo and come out with a narrow victory on the day.
The visit to Rice marked the women’s squad’s penultimate match before Ancient Eight play begins against Princeton on March 26. The final pre-conference tune-up will take place on Saturday against St. John’s.
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