After his hiring this past summer, Craig Schwartz, the new Lehigh men’s tennis coach, has his first tournament with Lehigh under his belt.
The Villanova Invitational took place from Sept. 9 to Sept. 11 at Villanova. Five pairs of players on the team were divided into a blue draw and white draw for knockout rounds.
After a weekend of competition, a pair of Lehigh players in each draw made it to the championship match. The final round of the tournament was postponed due to rain and was eventually canceled.
Schwartz said he was satisfied with the players’ commitment in training and during the games after he took over the team.
“The guys really took to heart what we’ve been working on over the last three weeks,” Schwartz said. “I think they were paying attention and really focused on wanting to improve, and they put it to work. They did a good job with that, and they’re really understanding their shot selection and decision making on the court.”
Schwartz said he thinks the team has developed a good sense of culture and he was happy to find out his players were committed to improving their games. He said the team’s performance in the first tournament reflected that they were fully prepared for the new season.
In the blue draw, senior duo Matt Kleiman and Jeremy Learner got themselves all the way into the championship match. They defeated opponents from Saint Joseph’s in the first round and two Villanova pairs in the following matches.
Sophomore Marc Blekhman, last year’s Patriot League Rookie of the Year, and freshman Jackson Morash missed the chance to face off against their senior teammates in the finals match. They defeated Bucknell and Villanova before falling to Nick Mueller and Brendan McDonald from Bucknell.
In his first collegiate tournament, freshman Wyeth Anzilotti was paired with senior Michael Bukhalo.
Schwartz said he paired Anzilotti with Bukhalo based on their Universal Tennis Rating, a global tennis player rating system, which covers a wide range of tennis athletes from the professional to junior level.
Schwartz said he also wanted to see “chemical reactions” between the players, with experienced upperclassmen helping college beginners through mental development.
Bukhalo said he thought the pairing went well. He said he could be a role model and offer guidance to the freshmen who are new to the team.
Anzilotti said he is excited to get the season started after the first tournament.
“I feel like it was honestly one of the best experiences of my life,” Anzilotti said. “It was great to be part of the team. I think that the team has been very welcoming, and they definitely made the transition to college a lot easier, which is nice.”
After three long matches, Bukhalo and Anzilotti made it to the finals match with three 2-1 set victories over opponents from Colgate, Lafayette and Villanova.
Anzilotti said making it to the finals in his first tournament was the most memorable moment of the weekend.
Bukhalo said the doubles match against Villanova in the semifinals showed the pair’s mental toughness.
“Wyeth (Anzilotti) was a little injured in that match, but he pushed through it, which showed a lot of toughness and competitiveness,” Bukhalo said. “And we were just able to be energetic and really competitive, even though we were exhausted from the tournament at that point.”
In reflecting on the weekend, Schwartz said he hopes to continue building the team dynamic and helping his players to improve their decision making. He said he believes he is building a championship team.
“We stay the course,” Schwartz said. “And (from) what I’ve seen already, I believe the sky’s the limit, and we will have a shot to compete for the Patriot League Championship.”