Thursday, April 16, 2009
Who's Making All That Racket?
This season, the Princeton tennis teams are making more of it.
It's been a busy spring this year, as it is every year and every season in a 38-sport athletic program, but the tennis teams have earned a little more notice this season than in recent ones.
A year ago, the men's team finished 9-11 overall and 1-6 in the Ivy League, ending the season on a six-match losing streak that was capped with the team's first on-the-court loss to Cornell since 1949.
Fast forward a year, and the Tigers (11-8 overall, 3-2 Ivy) are entering the final week of the Ivy season still with league title hopes alive. They'll look to start a new streak against Cornell Friday in Ithaca, and will try to defeat Columbia for the first time since 2003 Sunday at the Lenz Tennis Center (or on Jadwin Gym's indoor courts if the weather is uncooperative). Two wins won't get them a share of the Ivy title on its own -- Brown will have to lose one of its last three in order for that to happen -- but it's a nice turnaround for a team that ended last season on such a downer.
In recognition of last weekend's sweep of Harvard and Dartmouth, the men are ranked 71st nationally in Division I by the ITA, which does weekly rankings of the top 75 teams. Only once this season, after wins over No. 60 Utah and No. 70 Purdue on the spring break trip, has Princeton been ranked (it was No. 73 then).
The Tiger men are competing with a lineup that will return mostly intact next season, except at the top. No. 1 singles player Peter Capkovic, the 2008 Ivy League Player of the Year, and No. 2 Alex Vuckovic are both seniors and team to form Princeton's No. 1 doubles pair.
The women (16-7, 4-1) would win their first Ivy League title since 2000 with no help by defeating Cornell and Columbia this weekend. The home match against Cornell is Friday, followed by the trip to Manhattan Sunday. Princeton's women haven't lost to Cornell since 1996 and have won the last three against Columbia.
While the men have peeked into the rankings, the women have been there all spring, currently checking in at No. 46 as one of three ranked Ivies (Yale is currently No. 44 and Brown is No. 58). The Tiger women are tied with those two schools at 4-1 in the league but hold the tiebreaker for the NCAA automatic bid over Brown, though not over Yale. Princeton will need Yale to lose either to Harvard or Dartmouth this weekend, even with two wins, in order to be assured of advancing to their first NCAA tournament since 2000.
Last season, Princeton was 13-7 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy and has been over .500 in the league every year since 2004, but the Tigers haven't won as many matches in the Ivy as the six they could after this weekend since a perfect 7-0 Ivy season in 2000.
The women's team has no seniors in its regular starting lineup in singles or doubles. All three freshmen, including Lauren McHale, Hilary Bartlett and Rachel Saiontz, are regular starters, setting the team up for successful seasons ahead.
(You can also see the women's tennis team through the lens of TigerCam, which followed the Tigers to Harvard and Dartmouth last weekend, here)
But before looking ahead to what the Tiger teams might return next season, there's still much to be decided this season. You'll have one last chance to check out who's making all that racket this weekend over at Lenz.