|Senior Rohan Gupte has a top 40 national singles ranking|
MEDFORD - With the vast majority of the starting line-up back from a team that finished the 2016-17 season ranked 17th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) national poll, the Tufts University men's tennis team has an enthusiastic outlook as the spring season begins on Saturday at MIT.
Senior Rohan Gupte, #34 nationally in the ITA's singles rankings released at the end of the 2017 fall season, senior Zain Ali, senior Danny Coran, sophomore Zach Shaff, sophomore Nathan Niemiec were singles starters at the end of last season and all have returned. Sophomore Ben Biswas won the C singles title at Middlebury's invitational in the fall and will compete for a regular starting spot. Head coach Karl Gregor has added a strong class of recruits, including Boris Sorkin and Carl-Herman Grant who won singles titles at the annual Wallach Invitational hosted by Bates in the fall.
Likewise, the Jumbos have plenty of experience in the doubles line-up. Gupte and Ali were the #1 duo for most of last year, and the Shaff-Battle tandem has continuity at #2 as well. Junior Ross Kamin and Niemiec finished the season at #3 doubles, though Ali also spent some time there. Sophomore Ethan Bershtein played on two winning pairs at fall tournaments. He and Sorkin won the B doubles flight at the Wallach Invite and he teamed with Biswas to capture the B doubles crown at Middlebury. So there's plenty for Coach Gregor to choose from as the Jumbos' doubles options.
As always, the Jumbos will have to navigate through the insanely competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). The league features seven teams ranked among the national top 20, including three of the top five and five in the top 10. Since 2010, NESCAC teams have won five NCAA championships - Amherst (twice), Bowdoin, Middlebury and Williams.
The Jumbos suffered excruciatingly close 5-4 losses to Amherst, Wesleyan and Bowdoin last year. Tufts narrowly missed earning one of the six qualifying spots for the conference tournament. With the added year of experience, the Jumbos hope to flip those results this season.
"This year, our expectations are justifiably higher than those of past years," said Battle, a tri-captain along with Coran and Justin Brogan. "We continued our yearly trend of finishing near 15th in the country with a year end ranking of 17th last year. What sets this year apart from past seasons is that we did not graduate any consistent starters from last year. In fact, with a strong recruiting class featuring multiple freshmen who made an immediate impact last fall, combined with our starters from last year having more experience, maturity, and another year's worth of training, we are undeniably a stronger team than we were last year. As such, we are hungry to crack the top 10 barrier this year and potentially receive a bid to the NCAA tournament. To achieve either goal would be a big step forward for our program."
Saturday's spring-opening match at MIT will provide a great first test for Tufts. In the March 1 ITA team rankings, Tufts remained at #17 and MIT is #21. Tufts is sixth and MIT is ninth in the January 18 ITA Regional rankings. The teams did not play last season and MIT defeated the Jumbos 5-4 the last time they met in 2016.
Following Saturday's match, Tufts will take its annual spring trip west. They will play a NESCAC match against Connecticut College at Arizona State University as well as playing at second-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps during their stay.