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Returning with an even combination of rookies and veterans, the Penn men’s tennis team is a mixed bag.

But missing from that bag are last year’s top player and one of this year’s captains. Still, when the Quakers open their season tomorrow at Levy Pavilion with a doubleheader against Drexel and Bucknell, they’ll be playing with a target on their backs.

“On paper we’re the better team,” coach Nik DeVore said of tomorrow’s opponents. “But Penn is always one of the biggest matches on their schedule, so we can’t take them lightly.”

With five new freshmen this year, the Quakers are coming in with a brand new outlook.

The rookies are expected to contribute immediately as complements to four returning seniors.

Compared to 2009’s 10-person roster, the 14-man team this year will improve the inter-squad competitiveness.

“The upperclassmen have to be on their toes because they know [the freshmen] are ready to play,” DeVore said.

Promising rookie Jason Magnes impressed the coaches when he went 11-3 in the fall.

DeVore is positive he will be someone to look out for. “He’s come a long way in a short period of time,” he said.

The coach is also pleased with the way the upperclassmen have stepped up and showed their leadership in helping the freshmen adapt to college life and feel welcomed on the team.

During the offseason, the team spent a lot of time on their aerobic endurance. Repetition was key in keeping the guys in shape, and DeVore believes this is the fittest the team has been in years.

Last year, the Red and Blue wrapped up their season falling at home to Cornell and at Columbia, who then went on to clinch the Ivy League title.

And a huge loss from that team is the graduation of senior captain Jonathan Boym, who was considered one of the top players in the Ivy League.

Unfortunately for Penn, the most logical replacement for Boym, current senior captain Hicham Laalej, is out indefinitely with a broken leg.

“Losing Hicham was tough,” DeVore said. “Going into the season with Hicham, we would definitely be one of the favorites as well as Columbia who is basically bringing back its whole team.”

However, that doesn’t mean the race for the title isn’t on.

“Come Ivy League season, who knows what will happen,” DeVore said. “There’s a lot of parody in the beginning. Everyone is looking for their newcomers to step up.”

Everyone will get that opportunity tomorrow when the roster will be split even between the two matches. DeVore said he will try to avoid having his players compete in both games. With 13 healthy bodies and 12 flights to fill, he can get away with spreading out the court time.

This will be the third year in a row that Penn has opened its season against Drexel, and both years the Quakers have come out on top.

For senior Jeff Karsh, these games won’t come by much more often.

“The games will be long and tough,” he said, “but I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”

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