The Pomona-Pitzer men’s tennis team (13-8, 4-1 SCIAC) had dropped all three doubles sets to the Lewis & Clark College Pioneers (9-5, 5-1) April 7, and things were looking bleak.
To avoid a huge upset by the No. 33 Pioneers, the No. 12 Sagehens were faced with the challenging task of winning at least five of the six singles matches.
Although they had just minutes between the doubles and singles matches to regroup, the Sagehens showed their strength by flying out into the singles competition in full force.
Jed Kronenberg PO ’21, Sam Malech PZ ’18, and Sam Gearou PO ’19 made quick work of their Pioneer opponents, winning 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1 singles, 6-1, 6-1 at No. 5 singles, and 6-1, 6-2 at No. 6 singles, respectively. Their brisk wins tied the overall match score 3-3.
With three matches remaining, the fate of the Pioneer-Sagehen battle was in the hands of Octave Bellet PZ ’20, Josh Gearou PO ’19, and Marko Mandic PO ’18 at No. 2, 3, and 4 singles.
Bellet flew past his opponent 6-2, 6-4 to help pull the Sagehens one match ahead of the Pioneers, while Josh Gearou clinched P-P’s victory with a 7-5, 7-5 win.
After winning the first set 6-3, Mandic tied the second set at 6-6. In full lockdown mode, Mandic captured the second set tiebreaker 7-1 to highlight a 6-3 match victory for the Sagehens.
Josh Gearou stayed positive on the team battles despite the doubles defeats.
“Each match was close and I felt each doubles team played smart doubles,” he said. “The energy level from the players on and off the court throughout the match was very high.”
The Sagehens have struggled in doubles matches all season long, and Josh Gearou was pleased that P-P responded well to adversity.
“I was most proud of the team’s ability to recover from the doubles setback and win every singles match. Our team’s ability to be unfazed after going down in doubles has been a key part of our success this year in our singles matches,” he said.
Kronenberg agreed, recalling the Sagehens’ equally hard-fought 5-4 comeback over the Brandeis Judges (10-2), after dropping all three doubles matches in February.
“The heart we’ve shown this season, especially when down in singles, has been incredible to see and it’s so fun competing with everyone,” he said.
Kronenberg credited the teams’ success to the senior Sagehens for leading the large roster of underclassmen by example with unrelenting on-court determination.
“I’m really proud of how hard we fight to win when we are in a tough situation. A lot of that fighting spirit comes from our senior captains,” he said. “Seeing how hard guys compete on a daily basis is really important and they’ve taught us really well.”
Coming into the match against the Pioneers, the Sagehens had a tough 8-1 loss to No. 8 Gustavus Adolphus College (15-8) fresh in their memories. With this in mind, they focused on fine-tuning their singles and doubles play in practice.
“We talked a lot about finding a way to win close matches in singles, when all the pressure is on you. That really showed against Lewis & Clark since we came out and played really strong competitive tennis on big points,” Kronenberg said.
Josh Gearou said the team also emphasized playing “smarter” doubles prior to facing Lewis & Clark.
“Some aspects of doubles we tried to focus on after these matches were hitting more balls through the center at the net and the baseline, hitting lobs to throw off aggressive net players, and hitting lower and harder at the net players from the baseline,” he said.
Since the SCIAC Championships are just a month away, the P-P men hope that they can play their future doubles matches with more energy.
“We have to be able to start the match with the intensity we had when we were losing 3-0,” Mandic said.
As they make a final push for a possible spot in the NCAA playoffs, Josh Gearou also noted the team’s desire to continue honing their doubles play in practice.
“Going into the rest of the season, I am feeling confident about my game and my ability to win in big matches. I think the same can be said for the rest of the players in our singles lineup,” he said. “I’m a little nervous about our doubles lineup, but I hope that in the next weeks we can find the right ingredients to put together some wins in our doubles spots, giving us a better chance to win some of the big matches we have coming up.”