This post has been updated.
The Cornell men’s tennis team was undoubtedly motivated to make a deep push into the NCAA tournament. And with its dominant first round win over Rice, 4-0, the Red seemed to be sending a message that despite its inexperience, the team was ready to make some legitimate noise in the postseason.
But ultimately, the title-contending No. 7 Baylor Bears were too much to handle.
In a show of dominance by Baylor (22-7), the Red (22-4) was blanked on Saturday. However, the final scoreline of 4-0 may be misleading to many as to how close the match was.
“First and foremost, we have to give credit to Baylor [for] showing why they are a championship caliber team,” said head coach Silviu Tanasoui. “However, at the same time, I don’t think the score was indicative of how close the match was. We were in a good position in a few of the sets … but unfortunately we were unable to finish them.”
Baylor opened scoring in the tournament by capturing the doubles point. While seniors Colin Sinclair and Chris Vrabel were leading 6-5 in their No. 1 doubles match, the Bears secured wins in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots to take the point.
Heading into singles plays, Cornell faced an immense challenge, with Baylor boasting three of the nation’s top 63 ranked players. Nevertheless, in the face of overwhelming odds, the Red would manage to hang on. Freshman Lev Kazakov won his first set 6-2 against Baylor’s No. 50 Max Tchoutakian, and Sinclair would prevail 6-4 against Baylor’s No. 63 Johannes Schretter.
Despite its perseverance,Cornell was unable to secure any wins before the Bears closed three of its own. Losses by sophomore David Volfson, freshman Pietro Rimondini and senior Bernardo Casares Rosa at the No. 1, 5 and 6 spots, respectively, clinched the game for Baylor.
“A few of the points didn’t go our way because the guys were a bit nervous playing on a bigger stage than we were used to,” Casares Rosa said. “I don’t think Baylor played [significantly] better than us, but they were definitely just more relaxed than us.”
With the loss, Cornell’s historic season comes to an end. This season played host to an assortment of milestones for the Red, including winning its second Ivy League title, earning its first-ever at-large bid to its second-ever NCAA tournament and qualifying for its first-ever trip to the second-round.
“[The Red] accomplished a lot this season and I can see the team going very far in the future,” Casares Rosa said. “I, along with the rest of the seniors, are just so proud to have brought this team to a better place than it was a few years ago.”
The Red also recorded its highest win percentage in program history at 0.846 and second-highest number of wins with 22, only behind its 26-5 season in 2011 — the last time Cornell secured the Ivy title and a berth to NCAAs.
“[Cornell] owes so much of its success to the seniors,” Tanasoui said. “[The seniors] are leaving this program in much better shape and I am just so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with them.”
As Cornell looks ahead to next year, there is good reason to believe it can sustain its current success. The Red will retain three of its six starters in both its singles and doubles lineups along with a wide array of young talent to work from. And of course, the team will enter next year more seasoned with its newfound postseason experience.
“We learned this season that we have the ability to compete with the best in the nation,” Casares Rosa said. “After making the second round this year, I think the team now has a completely different mindset [and] are motivated to continue training hard [to] make it [further] next year.”
“We’ve set the standard [this year] and will look to accomplish even more,” Tanasoui said. “The seniors have laid a very strong foundation for many generations to come and the rest of our team are very motivated to be even more successful.”