The two remaining undefeated Centennial Conference men’s tennis teams battled for the top seed this past Saturday. The 17th-ranked Blue Jays came out on top in the matchup against the Swarthmore College Garnet to secure hosting privileges for the Conference Tournament. The final score of Saturday’s match was 7-2.
“Winning that match allows us to host the Conference Championships, so that is a big advantage,” freshman Joseph Cartledge said. “It also gives us a lot of confidence moving forward… we can take care of business when it counts.”
The Blue Jays earned victories in all of their doubles matches. Cartledge teamed up with senior Jeremy Dubin and started the Jays’ sweep with a memorable 9-8 (3) win against the Garnet’s Mark Fallati and Josh Powell. Senior Emerson Walsh and junior Justin Kang won 8-4 at second, and junior David Perez and sophomore Scott Thygesen won 8-6 at third.
“Swarthmore is our toughest in-Conference opponent, so it was important to get off to a good start. We swept doubles by pulling out a couple close matches, and from there, we just stayed aggressive and were able to win fairly comfortably,” Cartledge said.
During individual play, the Garnet was able to get onto the scoreboard when Thygesen was forced to retire, handing the victory to Swarthmore’s John Larkin. Despite the loss, Hopkins stayed on top with the help of Walsh’s 6-3, 6-2 victory against the Garnet’s sophomore Simon Vernier to give the Blue Jays a 4-1 lead.
Following Walsh’s performance, freshman Aaron Carey, Dubin and Perez all defeated their individual opponents, advancing the lead to 7-1.
“The standout play is probably [Perez] hitting a drop-shot winner on set point to win the set 7-6,” Cartledge said.
The Garnet was able to grab the last point of the day, but despite having home-court advantage, the match had been decided early on.
“Our mindset was to be aggressive early and take a lead after doubles and not let them really have a chance to get into the match,” Cartledge said. “There was a big crowd, and they were at home, so we knew that if we allowed them any foothold in the match, the crowd could become a factor, and the players would be extremely pumped up.”
After Saturday’s win, Hopkins improves their all-time record against the Garnet to 19-26, having won 17 of the 18 most recent face-offs.
The Blue Jays once again finish the regular season with an undefeated Conference record for the 11th time in the past 13 seasons. Under head coach Chuck Willenborg, the Jays are 102-3 in Conference matches.
“We have won the Conference title over 10 times in a row, so it’s always tough to have a target on your back,” Cartledge said. “So far, we have handled that and the pressure that comes with being the favorite in every match really well and completed an undefeated Conference season.”
Dubin is now tied for seventh in program history for singles victories as he sits at 53 wins. Along with his notable singles wins, Dubin is also ranked 12th in program history for total combined wins.
Walsh has also made notable strides throughout his career, moving up to tie for 10th in program history, earning his 105th victory last Saturday.
After clinching first place in the Centennial Conference, Hopkins will host the 2017 Centennial Conference Tournament on Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7. The Blue Jays will make their opening appearance at the Tournament against the winner of the Washington College and Franklin & Marshall College matchup.
“Our first goal is to win the Conference title,” Cartledge said. “After that, we will take it match by match in the NCAA Tournament. We have been to the last four Elite Eights, so we would like to get back to that point and put ourselves in a position to contend for a Championship.”
Despite losing senior captain Mike Buxbaum to injury earlier in the season, the Blue Jays continue to strive for their end-goal: the NCAA Championship.
“We have been working extremely hard, and a lot credit has to go to Coach Willenborg for keeping the team focused and driven after losing [Buxbaum], who was a captain and our [best] singles and doubles player. I think that we have faced a lot of adversity this season, and that has molded us into a very tough team that can do really well at NCAAs,” Cartledge said.