The Pomona-Pitzer men’s tennis team started their 2012 season with a loss in a nonconference match against fifth-ranked NAIA team Azusa Pacific. It was a tough test to start the season, according to Coach Ben Belletto.
“They have scholarship players,” explained the coach. “Three of their guys were nationally ranked. Their top guys came over from Europe and definitely had professional tournament points.”
“I was pleased but not contented,” Belletto said. “We played singles first and doubles second, we usually [do the opposite], so that’s something that was not normal for us. It wasn’t ideal for us. Their strength was singles and ours is doubles. The lineup’s never totally set. We have a deep team, and because the season’s so long and we play so many matches, somebody’s going to be asked to step in.”
Tommy Meyer PO ’12 had the Sagehens’ lone singles win. He had won the last three games of the second set to even the match at a set apiece when his opponent retired due to injury. Every other singles match was a straight-sets victory for Azusa Pacific, giving them an early 5-0 lead that would hold for the win. In doubles play, Meyer and Uday Singh PO ’12 won 8-4, and Chris Weichert PZ ’14 and Connor Sutton PO ’15 won 8-5.
“Tommy played a fantastic match and won against the number-five player in NAIA, which is pretty solid,” Belletto said. “As the season goes on we’ll get stronger, but I’m pretty happy with the way we played.”
Meyer and Weichart agreed, each citing the toughness of getting back into competition and expressing confidence that they and the team would improve as the season goes on.
The Sagehens will next head to St. Peter, Minnesota, to compete in the ITA indoor nationals February 24-26.
“I’m really looking forward to indoors,” Weichart said. “There’s eight of the top 25 teams in the country, and it’s going to be a challenge.”
“Our goal is to be a national championship team. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to win every match, but we’re going to train like one,” Belletto said. “We’re not going to be happy to just be invited to this prestigious tournament. But there are some really, really good teams there, and they want the same thing.”
“We’re an outdoor team, and playing indoors is a little bit different,” the coach said. “Typically, the surfaces are a little bit faster, but you don’t have to deal with the sun, wind, all the elements. I think it’s a bigger adjustment to go from indoor to outdoor [than vice versa.] But again, a lot of our guys come from all over the country and have experience playing indoors.”
The Sagehens will start play against Kenyon College, with whom they have a history.
“We lost to Kenyon 5-4 last year—and it came down to my match, so I’m really looking forward to playing them again,” Weichert said.
“A lot of people on the team are really excited to play them,” Belletto said. “Not because they’re not a good team, and not because we felt like we didn’t play well, but we felt like we had opportunities, and it was a really good match. This means a lot to them, especially the guys who played them last year. And I’m sure Kenyon feels that way as well. All of our matches in recent years have come down to the last match. As a coach, I love having a team that loses a tough match and wants to play again, wants that opportunity. And I know that Chris feels the same way. He’s so much better than he was as a freshman.”
As the Sagehens head to Minnesota, they look to build on their experience gained this weekend.
“You train really hard… but being in a live situation is a lot different,” Belletto said. “You need matches under your belt to get comfortable. It’s not always just pure fitness, but being comfortable mentally. If you get too amped up, get psyched out, that can cause you to exert more energy early on than necessary. That’s why we went up against one of the best teams in the country, to see where we are. I think we were a little bit tight, but I think we got through that, and I think our fitness was a strength overall.”
With increased experience, the Sagehens should be a strong contender at the Indoor Championships.