By Connor Smith
Social Media Editor
The men’s tennis team hosted Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) on Saturday, Feb. 28, in a six-hour marathon that was ultimately decided in the final singles match of the day.
The Lions (2-1) managed to deconstruct the Rensselaer Engineers’s 4-1 lead by rallying to win the final four singles competitions and securing a 5-4 victory.
“We were well prepared,” head coach Scott Dicheck said. “All three doubles matches could have gone either way. It was just a back and forth day.”
The Engineers’s blueprint for success relied on their high-caliber doubles pairs, which included the nationally-ranked duo of McKinley Grimes and Sherman Uyeno.
On court one, seniors Pierce Cooper and Billy Buchbinder were tasked with facing off against Grimes and Uyeno. Grimes established himself from the start, unleashing a lightening-quick serve that was often difficult to return. As their energy waned, both pairs vented some frustration with their own play.
The intensity between both teams met its peak with the score tied at eight. The Rensselaer duo escaped the tiebreaker with a victory, in large part due to Grimes’s consistently tricky serves. Although they expressed an obvious sense of frustration, Cooper and Buchbinder accepted their defeat with class and respect for their opponents.
Juniors Mike Stanley and Jack August kept the Lions alive in doubles with a razor-thin 9-7 victory on court two. Unfortunately for the team, another 9-7 score went in favor of RPI on court three, handing the College an early 2-1 deficit heading into the singles competition.
“Obviously, we were disappointed being down, 2-1,” Dicheck said. “We knew we’d keep fighting. We knew it was going to be that kind of battle.”
Singles competition looked dire for the Lions, as Cooper fell to Grimes again in their third set. Court two yielded a two-set defeat for the Lions, increasing RPI’s lead to 4-1.
“We needed to win the last four,” Dicheck said. “The guys on the court knew what was going on, so they kept asking.”
August’s singles matchup on court three seemed grim after he dropped the first set, 1-6. As the magnitude of his matchup began to unfold, August managed to win a set of his own to force a third set. This burst of momentum proved effective enough, as August handed Sherman a loss of his own in the final set.
As his doubles partner rallied from behind, Stanley earned a three set victory, bringing the overall score to 4-3, in favor of RPI.
The fate of the entire match rested on freshman Omar Bokhari and sophomore Chris D’Agostino. Although Bokhari is still a freshman, this wasn’t the first time his singles match had the potential to lose his team the match. With the Lions down, 4-3, Bokhari won his matchup in two sets to keep the Lions alive against Chestnut Hill.
“Omar was ready,” Dicheck said. “He was in the same situation against Chestnut Hill and came out with a win. I think that helped him.”
With players on both teams camped in the stands to give their teammates much-needed support, Bokhari managed to pull out a two set victory (6-4, 6-3), while battling the intense emotional playstyle of his opponent.
Although the Lions had overcome a 4-1 deficit, they weren’t out of the woods yet. All eyes were on D’Agostino’s singles competition, as the Lions desperately wanted to avenge losses to RPI from the previous two years.
“I haven’t been playing my best recently,” D’Agostino said. “I was definitely feeling nervous.”
After he won the first set, D’Agostino found himself down, 2-0, to start the second set. A taxing deuce had the potential to shift the momentum in favor of RPI.
“I wasn’t gonna let one game lose me the match,” D’Agostino said. “I could have been annoyed that I had the chance to take the lead. I just stuck with it.”
D’Agostino collected himself, rallied and he eventually swiped the lead in the set. With the score locked at 6-5, he managed game, set and match, erupting the Student Recreation Center into a frenzy of celebration.
After sticking with the College for over six hours, fans were rewarded with a victory.
“The support from my teammates was great,” Dicheck said. “There were more than teammates. There were family members, too.”
The Lions (2-1) will look forward to their first road match of the season, as they face-off against Haverford College on Saturday, Mar. 5.
With a renewed sense of confidence, D’Agostino is ready to see what the future holds for him and his team.
“It’ll be a tough match (against Haverford),” he said. “But we’re a resilient group. I’m sure we’ll win.”