The road remains less than kind for Penn men’s tennis.
The Quakers dropped their fifth consecutive road contest on Saturday after falling to No. 26 Virginia Commonwealth, 7-0.
Coming off a spring break slate that featured five matches overall, including three road matchups in Florida, the Red and Blue (7-5) hit the road again to take on their most talented opponent yet.
After losses in the three doubles matches dropped the Quakers into an early 1-0 hole, the squad could not rebound in singles play. The clean sweep marks the first time this season that Penn has failed to secure a point.
Including Saturday’s matchup with the Quakers, the Rams (14-4) have now won eight of their last nine matches.
“It’s discouraging to lose obviously, but that was the best team we’ve played all year,” coach David Geatz said. “[VCU] is rated in the top 30, but I think they should be rated higher, and they could definitely make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.”
Unfortunately for the Quakers, the team was in a poor position before the matches even started on Saturday.
Sophomore Jeremy Court, one of Penn’s most successful players this season, did not travel with the team to Virginia after he was diagnosed with tendonitis in his arm on Friday.
“When you’re playing a team that’s maybe a level better than you, and you’re playing them on the road without your best player, it’s not usually a good combination,” Geatz said. “We definitely need to get Court back into the lineup going forward.”
Once the Quakers took the court on Saturday, it was clear that they were overmatched by their opponents from the start.
After the doubles tandem of junior Nikola Kocovic and senior Mark Milbrandt dropped its opening match, 8-2, junior Zach Katz and freshman Austin Kaplan fell, 8-3, giving the Rams the first point of the day and plenty of momentum going forward. Junior Kyle Roth and sophomore Sylvester Wee also were defeated in their doubles match, 8-6.
For much of the season, Penn’s coaches and players have focused greatly on the team’s ability to win doubles matches. In Geatz’s mind, the Quakers can only go as far as their doubles pairings take them.
“We need to be doing better in doubles than we are,” Geatz said. “I think we have good players, and I think we should do better in doubles than we are right now, but it’s definitely one of the weaknesses of our team too.”
In desperate need of some momentum, Penn dropped all six singles matches and was unable to win a set over the course of the afternoon.
Kocovic fell, 6-0, 6-4, to the No. 72 singles player in the country, junior Alexis Heugas.
After freshman Vim De Alwis and fellow rookie Kaplan lost their respective matches in straight sets, Katz dropped his match, 6-2, 6-4, giving VCU the victory.
VCU senior Max Wennakoski, the No. 21 singles player in the country, defeated Penn sophomore Ismael Lahlou, 6-4, 6-3, to finish the sweep for the Rams.
Moving forward, it is clear that the Quakers have plenty of room for improvement, especially with their next four games all coming away from Philadelphia.
And while the Red and Blue feature several young players in their lineup, the team will continue to focus on improving its doubles pairings in order to capture some victories on a tough road stretch.
“Almost every day, we try and do something in practice that is doubles-related, and we are going to continue to do that,” Geatz said. “We have to keep fine-tuning our doubles and decide how to put the six best players on the court for doubles if we want to win a few matches away from home.”
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