March 11, 2014

TENNIS | Men and Women Both Clinch Matches, Prepare for Ivy Play

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Despite having quite a small roster, the women’s tennis team showed a strong performance this weekend against West Virginia University. The Red won the match, 5-2, with the squad’s lowerclassmen picking up some crucial points to lead the team to its second straight win.

Freshmen Alex D’Ascenzo and Marika Cusik teamed up for a convincing 8-3 victory at the No. 1 doubles spot, beating Kaja Mrgole and Oana Manole, West Virginia’s top two singles players. The Cornell duo played together for ten years before coming to Cornell, and their on-court chemistry undoubtedly contributed to their success Saturday afternoon.

“I’m from Michigan and she’s [Cusik] from Chicago, so we would play Midwest tournaments together,” said D’Ascenzo. “We know each other’s mental attitudes, so we know how to help each other on the court. We just have fun together.”

D’Ascenzo attests that having a close friend by her side is part of the reason she has transitioned so smoothly to college tennis, but also says that the small size of the team actually benefits everyone on the squad.

“The freshman have just as important of a role as the upperclassmen, so just the fact that we all have to be there for each other helps with the transition,” she said.

D’Ascenzo admits the diminished roster “was a bit of a struggle at first,” but added that “because it hindered [the Red], it also brought us together more. I think that we’ve developed as a small team and now we’re doing pretty well.”

The women only have two matches left before the Ivy Season begins and are spending their time mentally preparing for the challenge that awaits them.

“At this point, once we go in against all the Ivies, we’re all relatively the same talent level,” D’Ascenzo said. “It’s kind of like, who wants to win more, who has the passion and the drive to beat all the other Ivies.”

The men’s team is also stepping up its game in preparation for the upcoming Ivy League season. The Red won both of its matches this weekend, putting the team on a four-match winning streak. Cornell has one match left against St. John’s University before the start of the Ivy Season. The team earned a decisive win over Old Dominion on Sunday, winning the doubles point and the No. 2, 5, and 6 singles matches. The team was also ahead in two unfinished matches at the No. 3 and 4 spots.

For the Red, the real action took place the day before. On Saturday, the squad defeated Virginia Commonwealth, the twenty-eighth ranked team in the country. Despite dropping the often critical doubles point, the Red rallied for a 4-3 win over the Rams.

“The match didn’t start out too well … and so it was going to be a tough task, because we had to win four out of the six singles against a very strong team,” said junior captain Sam Fleck.”

Sophomore Stefan Vinti and freshman Bernardo Casares Rosa won their matches at the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively, keeping the Red’s chances for a comeback alive.

At the No. 5 position, junior Jason Luu tied up the match at three all. The last person on court, freshman Chris Vrabel, won a third-set tiebreaker to clinch the win for Cornell. He defeated Vuk Velickovic with a final score of 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(3).

There was a certainly a lot of pressure on Vrabel’s match, but the freshman rose to the occasion with strong serves to tilt the tiebreaker in his favor.

“He [Vrabel] was very calm, he didn’t let the pressure get to him very much,” Fleck said about his teammate. “And he played to his strengths. He really went for his shots, came up with some really, really great serves — that’s definitely one of his strengths — and that set up the win for us.”

Vrabel admits that he was nervous, but played off of the nerves of his opponent and stuck to his game plan to come out on top.

“In the third set … I kind of had the feeling it was going to a tie break. I could tell [Velickovic] was nervous because he was starting to double fault a lot,” said Vrabel. “Our coach tells us even in tight situations to stay aggressive, so I tried to stick with that. In the tiebreaker I hit three aces … I was very nervous but I still pulled it out.”

Remaining composed during pivotal moments on court is something the Red has worked and improved upon this season.

“As guys are — especially as the freshmen are — getting more used to the matches, they’re getting very good at coping under those pressure kind of situations,” Fleck said. “In the past couple of weeks, we’ve beaten four really good teams. Especially with the Ivy matches coming up, it definitely gives us a lot of momentum and confidence going into our Ivy schedule.”