Despite having already been eliminated from Ivy League contention, the Tigers played their hearts out in a senior day win against No. 52 Cornell last Friday. A sweep at the hands of Harvard and a devastating 4-3 loss to Dartmouth last weekend left No. 61 Princeton (13-11 overall, 3-4 Ivy League) with nothing material to play for. It certainly didn’t show this weekend, as the Tigers came out swinging and beat the Big Red (13-8, 3-4) 4-2, the highest-ranked team they’ve beaten this season.
“We knew they were a really strong team,” junior Zack McCourt said. “Even though they weren’t thought of as one of the better teams in the league, they were seen as a threat to any team. They’ve got a deep lineup, strong at the top and bottom. We knew it would be a tough match from the start but that the home crowd would be beneficial for us. We were expecting a battle, but we knew we’re battle-tested, having gone through a lot more this season.”
The freshman pair of Tom Colautti and Josh Yablon continued their winning ways, besting their opponents 8-4 to give Princeton a leg up in the doubles point. McCourt and freshman Alex Day pulled off a resounding upset of the 49th ranked duo in the country 8-4, earning the opening point for the team.
Princeton took four opening sets in singles, including an inspired tiebreak win from senior Dan Davies in his last outing at Lenz Tennis Center. A cascade of results poured in soon thereafter. Cornell evened the score when Sam Fleck won his match 6-3, 6-2 over Colautti. Princeton then retook the lead and widened it with Yablon’s 6-2, 6-4 victory and senior Augie Bloom’s 6-4, 6-3 triumph. Rounding out the two-set matches was the Big Red’s Bernardo Casares Rosa’s 6-4, 6-3 win over Day.
McCourt found himself in a situation scarily similar to the one he faltered in last weekend at Dartmouth. With Davies locked in a third set battle and the team score at 3-2, he knew the match could very well come down to his play. This time, though, he saved the large crowd much anxiety in safely beating Stefan Vinti 6-4 in the final set.
“I thought my match would make it 3-3, and Dan would have to clinch. I was confused about how to score, so I was surprised when I won and clinched. I was still thinking about the weekend before, and I wasn’t going to let that happen by not being focused enough early in the third set. Losing last weekend made me hungrier to get the win and seal the deal.”
The team’s season, however, was not yet over. The final Ivy League match remained at No. 19 Columbia. The Lions (20-1, 7-0) had steamrolled their league opponents, losing just one singles match against Brown the whole season. Their only loss the entire spring came in a hotly contested 4-2 match at perennial powerhouse Georgia nearly three months ago.
Colautti and Yablon could not find the answer to Columbia’s Winston Lin and Mike Vermeer and fell 8-4 to kick off the match. The senior pairing of Bloom and Davies, playing doubles together one last time, kept their match deadlocked against Richard Pham and Bert Vancura. Day and McCourt faced formidable foes in seventh-ranked Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur. They fought valiantly, trading games for a while, before a single break gave the Columbia duo all it needed. They hung on for an 8-5 win and the doubles point.
The Tigers refused to go down without a fight and actually jumped out to early leads in several singles matches. Colautti, Day and Davies all took early breaks. McCourt joined in soon thereafter to go up 3-1 in his match against No. 11 Lin. Playing some of his best tennis ever, McCourt actually wrangled the first set from Lin 6-4. His teammates, however, could not capitalize on their early successes and all dropped their first sets. The Lions ultimately proved the far better team on this occasion, taking straight set victories over Colautti, Yablon and Bloom. McCourt appeared to be in a good position to hand Lin his first loss of the spring, but his match was discontinued in the second set with the score 3-2 in his favor.
“I’ve played him twice this season, and I’ve been a few points from beating him before. I felt like I had opportunities but wasn’t converting on the big points. This time, I used a different strategy and had more belief in myself. I played really well in the big points against him. Unfortunately I didn’t get to finish. It would have been a fun match to win.”
This season certainly had its ups and downs for Princeton. The team charged out to its best start in nearly 40 years at 5-0 and a national ranking of 55. The Tigers gained valuable experience at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic in Alabama and very nearly knocked off No. 21 Clemson. Two wins over ranked teams came in early March, and the team reached its peak ranking of 50th. A bad loss to No. 40 Purdue over spring break was the first sign that the wheels may have been coming off, but there was still an air of optimism heading into Ivy League play. The Tigers came out flat, though, and lost the opener 4-1 to a Penn team that would end up 6th in the league standings. However, the team immediately rebounded with a convincing 6-1 win over recently ranked Yale and a 4-3 nailbiter in the match of the season over Brown. The rollercoaster ride continued the next weekend when Harvard dismantled Princeton 4-0 and Dartmouth gave the Tigers a taste of their own medicine in an even tighter 4-3 match than the last one.
Though Princeton will lose the services of Bloom and Davies, it retains its entire top four, including three freshmen. Sophomore Jonathan Carcione will be back from a year off and is a phenomenal doubles player, having achieved a No. 40 national ranking with Bloom on the basis of their 8-2 fall season.
“Next year, we’re going to have an amazing team,” McCourt said. “I think we’ll win the Ivy title. We’ve got a great new culture, and this year was a big step for us. We have four incoming freshmen who I think will all contribute to the team next year.”