After a tough loss against Division I University of Southern California, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s tennis returned home and redeemed themselves in two statement games Feb. 12., at the Biszantz Center. With wins against Westcliff (6-1) and Hope International (7-0) this weekend, the Stags begin the year with a 2-1 record.
“[We’re] just incredibly thankful to be out here,” head coach Paul Settles said. “Our last match here was March 10, 2020, so it’s really a big deal just to be out here competing.”
Even with an inexperienced 12-man roster, four of which are first and second-years, Settles noted that Christopher Li CM ’24, Morgan Schilling CM ’25, Daniel Blackman CM ’24 and Matthew Robinson CM ’25 shook off early nerves and ended up playing “wonderfully.”
“[I] felt the guys got better and better as the day went on,” he said.
The excellent play was also featured by senior captain Jack Katzman CM ’22. He pulled off an impressive doubles win with fellow captain Robert Liu CM ’22, narrowly edging out a Westcliff opponent pair 6-4.
“The first match is sometimes the hardest of the season, it’s really good just to get the first one under the belt,” Katzman said. “It was a little bit rocky, but [we] found the rhythm.”
For Katzman, establishing a lot of his rhythm revolved around perseverance. The senior captain’s efforts shined in his singles match against Hope International’s ace Adam Szello.
“Because I don’t hit the ball very hard, [I focused on] the willingness to run down for one extra ball, make ‘em play one more, and then when I get an opportunity, make them pay for it,” he said.
“Because I don’t hit the ball very hard, [I focused on] the willingness to run down for one extra ball, make ‘em play one more, and then when I get an opportunity, make them pay for it.” — Jack Katzman CM ’22
This competitive attitude was reflected across his teammates as well. For Li, his strategy involved reading the movements of Hope’s Yahia El Sheikh.
“Moving him side to side was the game plan,” Li said following his win. “He didn’t like to get moved around, he didn’t like my slice – [so] I kept using my slice.”
Still, Li’s first at home collegiate match presented some challenges.
“I felt distracted at times,” he said. “His tempo was pretty slow, he took pretty long in between points, and that threw me off a little bit.”
This same uphill battle was felt by inexperienced and experienced players alike.
“[My opponent] had a very fast game and dry conditions favor the faster pace,” veteran Michael Hao CM ’23 said. “It was frustrating when he was teeing off on his forehands, while I had a lot of trouble holding my first serve in the first set.”
He expressed how his 2-6 first set loss was caused by narrowing in excessively on trying to win every point, a mindset that proved to be unproductive for him. Instead, the veteran managed to climb back into the match by “slowing down, de-stressing and not taking himself so seriously.”
“A [result] of wanting to win too much is you get a little tight and so you try not to miss too many points,” Hao said. “But what actually happens is, at least for me, you end up missing a lot more. So, I loosened up.”
With this new strategy in mind, the veteran dominated his opponent 6-2 and 6-0 in the second and third set respectively, sealing the comeback win.
As for end-of-the-season goals? To no one’s surprise, the team has big ambitions.
“Winning the national championship,” Katzman said without hesitation. “We definitely have the team to do it.”
After winning two consecutive matches, the Stags will remain at home in another doubleheader against Point Loma Nazarene University and UC Santa Cruz this afternoon.