This weekend, the men’s tennis team was able to accomplish something that it has never done before: earn a share of the Ivy League title. For the past two years, the Red has been the runner-up for the Ivy League, but this year the team gained the first conference title in program history since winning the 1949 EITA crown. Cornell has a chance to win the title outright if it beats Columbia on Saturday.
Ranked at No. 50, the Red (23-4, 6-0) defeated Penn on the road on Friday to get the weekend off to a strong start.
“It’s a lot tougher when you’re playing away,” said senior tri-captain Andy Gauthier. “They had a lot of fans [at the game], it was loud and rowdy.”
That did not stop Cornell, though, as the team came through with a solid victory.
“Penn is a really talented team and going into the match we knew it was going to be extremely tough,” said senior tri-captain Jon Jaklitsch. “We won the doubles point and then in the singles, I won my match pretty easily, but besides that we were losing on all five courts … It didn’t look good for a while but the team has been resilient all year long … We ended up winning, 5-2, which was a nice change from winning, 4-3.”
Two days later, the Red took on Princeton, the only other Ivy League team that had a 5-0 conference record. The match was a crucial one, with a share of the Ivy title on the line.
“Obviously coming in, both teams knew that the winner of the match would be the Ivy champ,” said head coach Tony Bresky. “The team was excited … doubles was incredibly close and we were fortunate to pull it out … It was a tight match, but I think once we got that doubles match, the guys felt very confident going into singles. I think we had the momentum going with us and we felt like we were going to win the match.”
After winning the doubles point, the Red was able to pull through and win enough singles matches to defeat Princeton.
“Andy [Gauthier], Jeremy [Feldman] and Evan [Bernstein] all won, so we closed the title … Obviously it was extremely nerve-racking but we were successful and able to win the title. It was a great day for all of us,” Jaklitsch said.
Unlike the uphill climb against Penn, this time the Red had the home court advantage.
“I think it helped us playing inside because Princeton hadn’t played on our indoor courts,” Gauthier said. “[Princeton’s courts] are similar but its always tough to play on another court and we had a lot of people there. [When we won the title] all the fans were going crazy. We had over 100 people there, which was great.”
The team was excited to make history for Cornell.
“It’s an amazing feeling [to win the Ivy title]. Cornell was the only Ivy team to never win [a share of] an Ivy championship until yesterday, and I don’t think Cornell’s team has ever had an opportunity to go to the last match to win a championship [outright],” Jaklitsch said. “It’s something none of us or even those before us had a chance to do. We knew all year long we had a great opportunity to win the title and I think the fact that we saw it through [was amazing].”
Although there is much to celebrate, the team still has many challenges ahead of it. Cornell has already earned a spot in the NCAA tournament; however, the team still has the chance to claim the Ivy League title outright in the final game of the season against Columbia. A Cornell loss would leave the Red even with Princeton atop the standings.
“We have the NCAA spot clinched, but we need to take care of business this weekend against Columbia and … win the Ivy League title outright,” Jaklitsch said.
“Columbia has a really good team — they are the two-time defending Ivy champions, so we definitely cannot take them lightly,” Bresky added. “We played them earlier in the year and we played really well against them. They are obviously ready to play and looking for to the last match. I think we are ready and really excited to get down and play them to finish the season strong and get ready for NCAAs.”
Although it will not be an easy match, the Red feels confident that it will be able to put up a good fight against the Lions and emerge victorious.
“Our expectations are of course to win,” Gauthier said. “I know Princeton beat Columbia, 5-2, on Friday at Princeton, so it’s a little different, but just the fact that they are a little bit down this year [could work in our favor]. I feel like we have a very good chance to take them down and get sole possession of the title, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the team has come a long way this season, winning the first Ivy title in Cornell history.
“It feels great,” Bresky said. “It’s been an unbelievable year. We feel very fortunate that we have come out on top from a bunch of close matches. I think it’s a testament to heart, soul and hard work of the team … it’s a testimony of our team. To win for the first time in history meant a lot to the guys … this couldn’t have been done without the support of the Cornell administration, fans … everyone associated with the tennis team in general.”