Men’s tennis had its worst regular season performance since 2007 this season – winning just seven matches overall.
With the Atlantic 10 Championship coming up this weekend in Orlando, Fla., the Colonials (7-16, 4-2 A-10) are on the rise having won four of their last five matches, including three conference games. They enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed and will play their first match Friday after earning a bye Thursday.
“We were up against some really tough teams at the beginning of the year, we learned a lot in those matches,” senior Chris Reynolds said. “Now we are applying our new skills and experience and playing better as a result.”
The Colonials took the championship title in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before being knocked out of the tournament in the semifinal round last year in a 4-3 loss to VCU. A win this season would be the program’s sixth title since 2011.
Injuries during the season sidelined sophomores William Tutecky and Dennis Afanasev – two of the team’s top players who combined for 27 wins last season – for most of this year.
Tutecky and Afanasev have regained their spots in the starting six, but head coach David Macpherson said the leadership continued from Reynolds, fellow seniors Chris Fletcher and Christos Hadjigeorgiou, and sophomore Jakub Behun contributed to the success in the conference slate.
“The conference tournament is always a bit different, the atmosphere is tenser than in a regular season match,” Behun said. “I think that in the last couple of matches we proved that we have the quality to beat other top teams in our conference.”
Behun owns a team-leading 4-1 individual record in A-10 play, followed by Reynolds and Fletcher, who both went 3-2 against conference opponents.
“Now with a full line up at our disposal we are optimistic we can challenge for the championship,” Macpherson said.
The team faces a challenging first-round opponent in the No. 5 seed Richmond if the Spiders advance past No. 12 La Salle Thursday. The Colonials beat Richmond 4–3 earlier month. If the Colonials advance to the second round they will face No. 1 seed VCU.
With a tough slate ahead of them and the additional challenge getting strong play out of Tutecky and Afanasev, Macpherson said the team needs to be resilient to move forward.
“Our strength is our toughness and belief in each other that has gathered momentum with every match this past month which gives us a chance to peak at the right time in Orlando,” Macpherson said.
Colonials lost their first 15 games of the season in a row before picking up their first win against Bethune Cookman in March. The early season losses gave the team time to adjust to the new tactics put forth by Macpherson, Reynolds said.
Recently, the those adjustments have been present in the team’s doubles play. The combo of Reynolds and Behun own a 16-12 record, and Fletcher and Hadjigeorgiou are 13-8 on the season. The Colonials also swept Richmond and Saint Francis in doubles play earlier this season.
“We are more in sync as a team, especially in doubles play,” Reynolds said. “We are more patient and waiting for the right chances to execute in our matches, and we are understanding better each day how we should be playing our matches to play to our strengths.”
The Colonials face the winner of the La Salle Richmond match Friday morning at 9 a.m.