The Lehigh men’s tennis team opened its season with a 1-6 loss to Villanova on Feb. 3 at the Ulrich Varsity Tennis Courts.
Villanova played and won two games before facing the Mountain Hawks, who last saw action at the ITA Northeast Regionals held at Princeton University where a select few competed.
The loss served as an early lesson for the team and brought its offseason preparation into perspective while also exposing areas of weakness.
Senior Chris Auteri carried the momentum of a 12-3 overall 2018 season record into the opening of the 2019 season, pushing his opponent to three sets in the six flight but ultimately falling 14-12 in the final set.
Auteri said the Mountain Hawks held a commitment to a strict workout regimen during winter break and that the team returned as one of the strongest units he has been a part of.
He said that prior to the loss against Villanova, the team had been focusing on cleaning up their doubles game. He said that key aspects of a doubles game include a high first-serve percentage followed by a swift movement toward the net that puts pressure on the opponent to respond quickly.
“We’ve been focusing on continuing to move forward despite how (fast) the ball is coming at us,” Auteri said. “You just have to continue to move forward and not be scared.”
The Mountain Hawks, however, did not take the doubles point, rather losing the first two doubles matches that ultimately eliminated the need to play the third.
Head coach Wouter Hendrix said the team is intelligent and willing to work, but they were not sharp enough against Villanova.
“(The) score against Villanova was a good indicator and reality check of the fact that we are not where we want to be yet,” Hendrix said. “It’s up to us to go back to the drawing board (and) training grounds and put in the work needed for another really good team like Drexel.”
Hendrix said that the team has the ability to absorb adversity early on in the season and that while its game will not sharpen overnight, he’s confident it will improve over time with more match reps.
With four seniors and a junior, the ten-man team is guided by experience, but will rely on the work and commitment of every player moving forward.
“It’s a collective effort, ” Hendrix said. “The guys understand that they’re playing for something bigger than themselves.”
Freshman Zack Elliott saw action in his first in-season match against Villanova. He said the team was confident in its fitness going into the Villanova match, but that they weren’t settled in yet.
“We were all super excited (and) anxious to get out and play our first match,” Elliott said. “I think the (excitement) and anxiousness hurt us.”
Elliott said the team has worked to implement physicality into their game — both on the court and in the gym.
As much as the result hurts, the desire to not experience a loss again is motivating according to Elliott.
Elliott said that the team’s practice after the Villanova match was the most intense they’ve had during his time at Lehigh.
“Everyone was fired up and ready to go,” he said.
The Mountain Hawks will host the Drexel University Dragons at the Lewis Indoor Tennis Center on Feb. 10 at 11 a.m.