Men’s tennis is off to its worst spring season start in at least 20 years.
After losses to Monmouth and Temple at home last weekend, the Colonials (0-7) remain winless through their opening four weeks of action.
Players said their focus has now shifted to winning against Atlantic 10 opponents after a mixture of injuries to top players and an intentionally grueling early slate. GW has not yet looked like a team that has won five conference championships over the past seven years, but the team says there’s still time to change that.
“We’ve got seven conference matches coming up, and what we want is conference wins,” senior Chris Reynolds said. “That’s all that matters because if we win our record will go away, and we’ll be seeded in the conference.”
Prior to last week’s outings, the Colonials had failed to score a single point.
They were swept by No. 6 UCLA, No. 13 Stanford, San Francisco and Pacific during a road trip out to California. Second-year head coach David MacPherson said the early challenges are a good test for a GW squad that has ambitions to compete among the nation’s top programs.
“We built a very tough schedule this year to try to harden our players and get them more prepared for the conference championship,” MacPherson said. “In years past we have had a much softer schedule, which is pretty on the score sheet, but we’re trying to be contenders for a national championship.”
For a program like GW, setting up a schedule featuring top-ranked teams is more easily said than done because many schools don’t want to risk losing to an unranked opponent, he said. However, MacPherson – who coached professionals for 11 years before coming to Foggy Bottom – said he has been attempting to better relationships with some of the most competitive universities.
Aside from the increased competition, the Colonials have had to contend with a depleted roster. Sophomores Dennis Afanasev and William Tutecky – who combined for 27 wins last year – have both been forced to sit out contests with injuries.
With only 4.5 total scholarships to hand out, GW’s men’s tennis team doesn’t have the depth necessary to combat their absences. The Colonials have forfeited several points because they didn’t have enough players to compete in all of the matchups.
In previous years, Reynolds and fellow senior Chris Fletcher have anchored the lineup during the opening weeks. But other players, including junior Amlan Sahoo, have been forced to step up while GW looks to get healthy.
“We’ve had to try and compensate for our injuries, and I’m really proud of their efforts trying to win matches shorthanded,” MacPherson said. “We’ve basically been on the ‘penalty kill’ our entire last month.”
MacPherson said he is waiting to pass judgement on this year’s team until he can see the entire squad play. The first opportunity for a good look will likely be when they open conference play against VCU on the road Feb. 24, he added.
Sophomore Jakub Behun said the team’s aim – to win the A-10 title – has not changed from years past. He said the return of Afanasev and Tutecky may be the thing they need to push GW over the losing hump.
“We’re obviously not as strong without them,” Behun said. “Once they get back, we can really show our potential and achieve our goal.”
Behun and Reynolds were the only two Colonials to pick up wins in both of last weekend’s matches. The duo picked up a 6–4 doubles win over Monmouth Saturday.
Fletcher and senior Christos Hadjigeorgiou lead the team with five overall wins apiece.
Despite the struggles, Reynolds – who serves as the team’s captain – said a shortage of talent hasn’t been the issue this year.
“Jakub has had some struggles in the last year, but he’s really come through, and he’s playing the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play,” Reynolds said. “Fletcher is solid as a rock. And Christos is one of the most talented guys on the team.”
MacPherson said he still sees the program on an upward swing following the recent losing streak.
“In the long term we’ve got a great new class coming in, and a lot of new recruits next year,” MacPherson said. “We’ll be young, but we’ll be deep.”
The Colonials will look to notch their first win of the season at Drake Friday at 7 p.m.