After starting with a 5-0 win against Whittier in the opening round of the SCIAC tournament last Friday, the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens ultimately finished in fourth place Saturday following an 8-1 loss to CMS, the eventual champion, in the semifinals and a 6-3 loss to the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen in the third-place consolation game.
Uday Singh PO ’12 played the most impressive match for the Sagehens against CMS, coming out on top in three sets. After falling behind in a quick first-set 6-2, Singh bounced back and won 6-4. Although the overall match had already been decided, Singh was not about to quit and rest up for his next match against Cal Lu. Instead, Singh came out in the tiebreak third set and won 10-7, finishing with a final line of 2-6, 6-4, (10-7).
This 8-1 loss to CMS came after dropping their regular-season meeting 7-2. As CMS has consistently brought in some of D-III’s top recruits, the Sagehens have had a difficult time overcoming their Sixth Street opponents the past few seasons. Still, the Sagehens find ways to draw inspiration and pride from their matches. The 7-2 regular season match represents the most wins any SCIAC opponent had hung up on CMS this season. And head coach Ben Belletto is planning on tightening the matchup even further over the next few seasons.
“We work on playing smarter and cleaner doubles,” said Belletto. “We work on closing the gap in terms of junior tennis experience… As long as we believe in ourselves, and work our tails off in practice, the rest will take care of itself. That is how we gauge success.”
The Sagehens managed to earn two singles and a doubles win in the match against Cal Lu. At three and five singles, Nick Tagliarino PI ’11 (6-4, 6-3) and Alex Groth PO ’12 (6-0, 6-3) won in straight sets, while Grant Friedman PI ’10 and Ramsey Bernard PO ’12 teamed up at two doubles to gut out an 8-6 win.
“We played Cal Lu very early in the season, at their place,” said Belletto. “We competed hard then, and lost a number of very close matches. The capacity of this team to learn from their experiences is impressive.”
Despite suffering a defeat, Cameron Taylor PO ’09, playing in his last SCIAC match, struggled valiantly against his opponent at the one singles position, an opponent that had only lost three matches all season. Using his customary grinding style of play, Taylor gained a tough first-set win at 7-5. However, after this first set, Taylor did not have much left in the tank after a long season, falling 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, in the end.
P-P did exact a measure of revenge by winning two more matches against Cal Lu than they did in their first meeting during the regular season. Groth and the Friedman-Bernard doubles tandem earned their first wins against Cal Lu, while Tagliarino continued his dominance of his Cal Lu opponent after winning earlier in the season 7-5, 6-4.
The undefeated win against Whittier was also no less impressive than the Sagehens’ matches against their tougher opponents. In the first meeting of the season between the Sagehens and the Poets, all of the P-P athletes had to step up in their nail-biting 5-4 win. However, after turning doubles losses at the one and three spots into wins, the Sagehens could cruise the rest of the match, winning two quick singles matches to clinch the 5-0 victory.
This improvement over the course of the season was one of the most interesting storylines for the Sagehen squad. With a lineup containing only one senior and one junior, much of the season saw young underclassmen working hard to refine their performance playing an extraordinarily tough schedule. Two-thirds of their games were against ranked opponents, including Emory University, Washington University (Mo.), CMS, UC Santa Cruz, and Amherst College, the top five teams in the country, and D-I opponent University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“With such a young team, I was most interested in making sure that we showed up every day to practices and matches and gave everything that we had, and to that end I am pleased,” said Belletto.
The Sagehens, one of the top-30 teams in the country, also secured wins against every team they were expected to beat.
“We won every match that we should have won on paper,” said Belletto. “That in itself is an accomplishment, meaning that we showed up everyday and did what we needed to do.”
Wins of note included a victory over Salisbury University, ranked 29th, on Mar. 18, a 5-4 triumph coming on the heels of a match against 11th-ranked Bowdoin that very morning, and an 8-1 victory over Hardin-Simmons University on Alumni Day, Mar. 7, that Belletto called “a beautifully clean match.”
Although the Sagehens will certainly benefit from the experience gained over the course of the season, they will miss the departure of top singles player and All-American Cameron Taylor PO ’09. With his SCIAC career over, Taylor will look to continue his collegiate career at the Ojai Invitational Tournament from Apr. 23-26, where a strong performance, similar to last year’s second-place finish, can earn him an invite to D-III Nationals.
Even without Taylor, with at least a season of SCIAC play under their belts, next year’s group of Sagehens hope to be well prepared to tackle any challenge their SCIAC and non-conference opponents throw at them.