The agony of defeat
The big game on campus today -- the only game, in fact -- was the Penn tennis team's playoff match against Brown to determine which of the Ivy League's co-champions would get an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Though it took place in the relatively out-of-the-way Levy Tennis Pavilion (which is actually quite a nice venue, if you've never been), there was plenty of buzz in the building.
Penn lost two of the three doubles matches, and was thus down a point in the first-to-four-points format entering the singles matches. So with Penn up 3-2, all the fans (and there were a decent number, actually) headed over to the two auxiliary courts, and were stacked ten deep at times in front of the few transparent areas of the court curtain.
After Brown's Chris Lee beat Penn's Brandon O'Gara at No. 6, the match was tied at three wins apiece, and as the players shook hands Quakers freshman No. 5 Justin Fox was down 6-4, 5-3 to Bears senior Luke Tedaldi.
Fox battled back to 5-4, then made it a straight-up duel for survival in the next game. Something like four deuces went by, then Fox went down a point again.
The Brown players waited on the next court over, crouched like sring-loaded missiles in an action figure's gun. After a few exchanges from the baselines, Fox hit a forehand into the net. The match was over, and the Bears sprinted to Tedaldi's side to celebrate a 4-3 win. It was the same score by which Penn beat Brown 22 days ago, and Brown's second win over Penn this season.
"Everyone was really motivated for this match," Bekker said. "One or two points could decide the whole match."
Both teams' names will be engraved on the elegant trophy that was on display at the front desk of Levy Pavilion during the match. Penn might still get an at-large bid to the Tournament, with Bekker quoting odds of that happening at "50-50, maybe."
It's still a better chance than the losing team would have in an Ivy League basketball playoff, given that it's never happened and probably won't for quite a while. But it should come as no surprise that a conference with the Ivy League's demographics merits an at-large bid in a sport played most often in country clubs.
And considering that the Quakers won at least a share of the Ivy League title for the first time in 35 years, even to be on the bubble is quite some progress.
"We've turned this program around," coach Mark Riley said. "Now we need to take this little bit of a bitter taste into next year to help us be better."
It might also serve Penn well if its name gets called in the selection show Wednesday evening.