By Connor Smith
Social Media Editor
The men’s tennis team opened their season by splitting their first two matches of the year.
The Lions were locked in a tight battle on Wednesday, Feb. 17, with Chestnut Hill College, a Division II opponent, before eventually losing a heartbreaker in the final singles competition.
With a new swagger from knowing they can compete with high-level competition, on Saturday, Feb. 20, the Lions swept their first Division III opponents, Dickinson College, 9-0, in a match that saw major milestones for both rookies and veterans alike.
“You want to test yourself against a higher level,” head coach Scott Dicheck said.
The Lions certainly had a lot to prove, going against a Chestnut Hill College lineup that consists mostly of international players with athletic scholarships that helped draw them to the school, according to Dicheck.
On court one, seniors Pierce Cooper and Billy Buchbinder went up with the French duo of Jonathan Ducretot and Pierre Koehler. The brash and animated Frenchmen were breeding tension in an already taxing set. Having traded games throughout most of the matchup, the Americans found themselves behind one game down the stretch.
The doubles team of Cooper and Buchbinder managed to keep the home-crowd invested until eventually dropping a heartbreaking tiebreak loss, 9-8 (9-7).
“We knew it would be a good test,” Dicheck said. “I was really impressed with the effort.”
While the “Battle of the Atlantic” on court one gave the Chestnut Hill Griffins a lead, juniors Mike Stanley and Jack August defeated Chestnut’s Brazilian doubles team with an impressive 8-4 victory on court two.
Chestnut Hill ended doubles competition with a 2-1 lead, after an 8-6 victory on court three.
Cooper — following his grueling defeat in doubles — bounced back in singles competition with a comeback win on court one (3-6, 6-3, 6-3). The victory in three sets put him one win away from fifth all-time in combined singles and doubles career wins at the College.
The Lions traded wins on courts two through five, resting the pressure of the entire dual on Buchbinder’s second matchup of the day. In a battle that included two tie-breakers, Buchbinder came away with a 6-7 (4-6) win during the first set, but his opponent, who is from Duderstadt, Germany, stormed back to win the following two sets (7-6 (8-6), 6-4).
“We’re always disappointed in losing, but it was a good battle,” Dicheck said. “You lose, 5-4, but that’s just to kick off the season and see where we’re at.”
The men’s tennis team had the choice to dwell on the taste of bitter defeat or to use the loss as an ignition for something special.
On Saturday, Feb. 20, the Lions chose the latter, unleashing a fiery passion that could not be matched by their Dickinson College opponents.
The Lions swept doubles competition, 3-0, with Cooper earning his 113th win to put him tied for fifth all-time in the College’s record books.
As Cooper added an important chapter to his historic career, freshmen Mitchel Sanders and Matt Puig began page one of their own — both partners earned their first collegiate wins in the doubles competition.
“We’ve got good milestones and starting things (for the freshmen),” Dicheck said. “We just got a good team effort from everyone.”
With a chance to move into sole possession of fifth all-time in combined wins, Cooper opened his first singles set from behind before eventually finding his footing for a 7-5 set. Now one set away from a historic milestone, Cooper was dialed in, cementing his place in Lions history by winning the final set, 6-2.
After continuing to thrash their opponents in singles, the Lions went on to sweep the match with a final score of 9-0. Tim Gavornik joined his fellow freshmen with a first victory of his own, winning his singles match (6-1, 6-3).
Now 1-1 on the year, the Lions will prepare for their Saturday, Feb. 27, matchup with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
“They’ve beaten us two years in a row,” Dicheck said. “We’re trying to get over that hump.”
According to Dicheck, the Lions will be working hard to prepare for RPI’s tremendous doubles squads.
“We’re going to have to put in some extra work into doubles,” Dicheck said. “I think our guys are ready. Now we just see what we can do.”
As for Cooper, it’s unclear how close he’ll come to the all-time combined wins record of 144. Regardless, the men’s tennis team will have an entire season to chase milestones and to make history.