While many of us look forward to a weekend brimming with what we’d contend are some pretty ambitious party plans, Penn men’s tennis has something bigger and a bit more impactful in its scopes: a weekend-long, tension-packed double matchup in Tennessee.
Led by coaches David Geatz, Brian Ward, and four talented seniors – including captain Matt Nardella – the Quakers will make their exodus on Friday morning for the 12-hour ride to Tennessee to face off against Middle Tennessee State.
Following that, the 12-man crew will hop right back on the bus on Sunday, heading to Nashville to compete against Vanderbilt in a historic first-ever contest between the two teams. There, the Red and Blue will seek to expand upon the weekend’s success and break into the early-season victory streak that they’ve shown they are capable of.
In recent years, the outsets of each season have marked fruitful periods of play for Penn. For this collection of ambitious players, it won’t be a mere hope to continue that pattern of performance into the new year; it’ll be an expectation.
Nardella is looking forward to helping carry his team to the triumph it's been training for against a team it has no experience against and no history of play to draw upon.
“We know that [Vanderbilt] is in a strong conference top to bottom, so they’re going to be tough," he said. "They’ve got a couple of great guys, so we know it’s going to be a tough match.”
Junior captain Josh Pompan attested to the strength and relentlessness that the Quakers are sure to confront in Nashville, but he has high expectations for himself and his teammates.
“They’re all brutally tough at this stage. When we go there, they’re all going to be yelling and screaming at their own court," he said. "I know a few of the guys from northern California on the team, so it’s going to be a fun one, but it’s going to be brutally tough. But we’ve been training for it, so hopefully we’ll get the job done.”
Last season, the team graduated several key players, but the Red and Blue have done well in recruiting those who are capable of filling the gaps that last year's seniors left in their wake.
“We had a large senior class last year, so we lost a couple of big contributors. We have a couple of newcomers, and a lot of guys are looking to prove themselves early on. We’re looking for a few more guys to break in,” Nardella said of the shift in point contribution.
Pompan seemed optimistic for the future: “We lost two good captains last year, but we’ve got three really good freshmen who’ve been working really hard, and it’s going to be exciting because we don’t really know the doubles pairings yet. Hopefully we’ll get it done and start getting into a groove every weekend from now on.”
To stay focused on the court during grueling and verbally taxing matches is no easy task, but Penn players have a custom of composure that keeps performance levels unaffected.
“It all starts from focusing [on] one point at a time for each match. If everyone goes out there and does their job, you don’t have to worry. Even though tennis is a team sport, it all ends up being an individual contribution; you just go out there and play your best, and if everyone does that, we’ll get the victory,” Pompan said.
As the Red and Blue take to the courts this weekend, they can remain unperturbed in the face of unruliness, play with passion, and overcome the opposition knowing that their friends and supportive classmates are back on campus drinking to their accomplishments.
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