In a pair of weekend matches against non-conference foes Wisconsin and Rice, Penn men’s tennis rode the full emotional spectrum from elation to frustration.
The weekend started out on a high note for the Quakers (4-3) with a thrilling 4-3 win over the previously unbeaten Badgers (3-1). After losing the doubles point, Penn battled back with singles victories from junior Josh Pompan, sophomore Kyle Mautner and junior Gabe Rapoport.
With the contest tied at three points each, the outcome of the match fell on the shoulders of freshman Max Cancilla. Undefeated in singles play entering the weekend, the rookie battled through two close sets, losing the first, 6-7, to Wisconsin’s Osgar O’Hoisin and capturing the second, 7-6. The final set brought another back-and-forth contest between Cancilla and O’Hoisin, with the Quakers’ freshman ultimately defeating his opponent, 7-5, to win the game, set and match for Penn.
“He showed how important it is to make just one more ball. A few points he played awesome and he got to the net and those were key points that he won,” his teammate Mautner said. “That was incredible.”
Coach David Geatz was similarly impressed with the performance of Cancilla and the rest of the Red and Blue roster.
“It was a big emotional match, it’s always good to beat one the Power 5 schools,” he said.
The score on Sunday would not be as close, however, as Rice (5-4) soundly defeated the Quakers, 6-1. Despite the imbalanced score, three of the singles contests were decided in the third set with Penn falling just short of securing the point.
The home team’s sole win came from Mautner, who defeated Jamie Malik 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Throughout the match, Mautner became visibly frustrated by his opponent’s judgments about where the line was. Late in the second set, the Rice coach warned Malik that another digression would result in a point penalty.
“He was a good player, but it was definitely a chippy match. I thought he made some tight line calls and I was getting a little heated out there,” Mautner said. “I was happy that I was finally able to break through at 4-3 in the second set.”
Tensions simmered in the middle of the match, but Mautner regained control of the court in the third set and jumped out to a 5-0 lead before eventually defeating Malik 6-2.
“I want to stay as lucid out there as possible. I think John McEnroe is the only guy who can play well when he’s heated,” he said.
In the early weeks of the 2017 season, the Quakers’ doubles play was emerging as one of the team’s strengths. That trend did not continue this weekend, as Penn failed to secure the doubles point against Wisconsin and Rice. The change in result was largely due to injury, as senior Marshall Sharp did not play on Sunday due to a bad back, junior Nicholai Westergaard was benched for an unnamed injury and sophomore Dmitry Shatalin missed both of the weekend’s matches due to a torn rotator cuff that has effectively ended his campaign.
“We really have so many people that could help us that aren’t able to play because they’re hurt. The biggest takeaway from this weekend is we kind of need to have a full, healthy team,” Geatz said. “We are kind of missing too many people to play a really good team and expect to win. We can still win, but we’ve got to win close matches and get a little lucky.”
Up next for the Quakers is the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament at Princeton on February 17-18. Geatz doubts that his team will return to full health by, so next weekend he will be counting on a little luck.