While a tough stretch against several teams in Florida and the entire Ivy League season still awaits, it is difficult not to feel good about where the men’s tennis team (12-1, 0-0 Ivy) stands in this early stage. In past years, Cornell has also opened strong and followed with less than stellar Ivy League campaigns. After an unusually tough slate of non-conference matches and some hard fought victories, though, the Red looks ready to buck that trend this year.
“I think we’re better prepared than last year,” senior captain Stefan Paulovic asserts. “We’ve played some tougher competition than in the past, and we’ve had some great wins.”
Indeed, Cornell has already defeated traditional strongholds Penn State and Old Dominion. While those are probably the top two teams beaten by the squad so far, the Red has steadily taken care of business.
That is the good news. The bad news is that in terms of difficulty and pressure, the season has only just begun for the Red. Another crucial pre-Ivy test will occur March 19, when it travels to Boca Raton, Fla. to face Florida Atlantic, a squad that has been playing quite well, particularly of late, as is evident from its victory over Miami.
The match against Florida Atlantic, however, only begins a three-day road swing through the Sunshine State that will also see the team take on Barry and Stetson, the former of which beat the Red last year. Add to the formidable opposition the fact that the team will be playing in some sunny, humid conditions, and the players have no illusions about the difficult task they will be facing.
“It definitely is a transition because we’ve been playing mostly indoors,” points out sophomore Scott Paltrowitz, who incidentally is the only Red player currently ranked nationally, at 144th. “It’ll be tough, but we should be ready.”
Only nine days after the Stetson match, Cornell begins its Ivy League season. Despite the terrific start, the Red currently ranks fifth in the league, behind Harvard, Yale, Brown and Princeton. That the fifth-place team currently stands at 12-1 and that the bottom three teams still constitute real threats says a lot about the league’s depth and begins to explain the intensity of the campaign that is in store for Cornell this year.
“It’s kind of funny,” Paulovic says. “I remember a couple years ago when Harvard was really good and all of the other teams were just okay. Clearly, things have changed since then.”
As is always the case, winning the league remains the paramount goal.
“Oh, definitely,” Paltrowitz said when asked if this was the case. “It should be intense. Last year, every Ivy League match could have gone both ways. It’s going to be a real dogfight.”
Although the team recognizes the toughness and importance of the next few weeks, the strong start has also imbued them with a sense of confidence.
“If you had asked me at the start of the year, I would have said that last year’s team was much better,” Paulovic admits. “It’s hard to replace guys like Mike Halperin ’01, Greg Artzt ’01, and Russel Gimelstob ’01. But after the way we’ve played, I really think we’re ready to go.”
“It’s definitely been quite a transition, going from not being sure I was going to play, to [No.] 1 doubles,” says Sunil Iyer, who as a freshman is a frequent doubles partner of Paulovic, and is one of the many young players that will be counted on to finish this season strong and contribute to many more Red squads in the future. “The level of play has been a lot higher than I expected,” Iyer added.
In addition to the solid play on the court, all of the intangibles seem to be in place for the Red to make a big run.
“This is a smaller team than last year,” Paltrowitz notes. “It’s a real close-knit group.”
It is also a very young group. Of the 11 players, six are sophomores and two are freshmen. With such a large and strong group of players at Cornell for several more years, the future looks quite bright. With a 12-1 record, garnered against some top opposition, one could say that the prospects for this season look quite bright as well.
Archived article by Andrew Bernie