Feb. 14, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The No. 50th-ranked Michigan State men's tennis team stays on the road this week as it travels to Tulsa, Okla., to face off against No. 34 Tulsa on Sunday at 12 p.m., inside the Case Tennis Center. MSU will be playing its fifth of seven road non-conference matches. Tulsa will also be the Spartans' fifth-ranked opponent they have played, with all of the ranked matches coming on the road. The 4-4 Spartans are 0-4 against ranked opponents on the road thus far.
"Eventually you've got to think one of the matches will go our way," head coach Gene Orlando said. "It hasn't gone our way but you never know how it's going to work out. You may lose your first three or four and then win your next three or four, you never know."
MSU is coming off a loss last weekend at the hands of No. 17 Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. The Spartans pushed the Wildcats all day but fell short in their upset bid, losing 4-1.
Senior co-captain Aaron Pfister earned the lone point for the Spartans on the No. 2 singles court. Pfister won in straight sets over the No. 55 singles player in the nation Beck Pennington, 6-4, 6-2. With the win, Pfister improved to a perfect 4-0 record on the second singles court, including winning his last three overall matches. The win was Pfister's first over a ranked opponent in dual play this season.
In the Polls
With the win last weekend, Pfister climbed into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association singles poll, released Feb. 11. Pfister slipped in at No. 125 in the nation. Overall for the dual season, Pfister is 5-3 and has won his last three in a row. Pfister is no stranger to the rankings as he appeared in the final three rankings to end the 2013 dual season. He was also ranked No. 77 in the 2013-14 preseason poll.
The No. 34-ranked Golden Hurricane come in with a 6-5 overall record. Under 22nd-year head coach Vince Westbrook, Tulsa has played a schedule heavy on ranked opponents thus far. Of its 11 matches, nine of them have come against a team ranked nationally. Tulsa has defeated then-No. 61 Wichita State, then-No. 30 Drake, then-No. 42 Washington, and it also traveled to then-No. 39 Minnesota and won. Five of Tulsa's 11 matches have been decided one way or the other by a single match.
Two singles and two doubles teams are nationally ranked for the Golden Hurricane. Senior Clifford Marsland comes in at No. 74 in singles, while senior Japie De Klerk is ranked No. 106. Marsland is 7-1 in dual play, with all of his matches coming on the second court. He is also 2-1 against ranked opponents. De Klerk is 5-4 on the season, with all of his matches coming on the top court.
Marsland teams with sophomore Dylan McCloskey to form the No. 20 doubles team in the nation. The duo is 6-3 playing on the top court. De Klerk pairs with junior Alejandro Espejo to make up the No. 47 doubles team. De Klerk and Espejo are 7-2 when playing on the second court, including 2-0 against ranked opponents.
Looking for Revenge
The 2012-13 season was one of the most successful in Spartan tennis history as the team advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the team tournament format began in 1972. MSU was bounced in the first round of tournament play, losing to Tulsa by a final tally of 4-1, on May 10, 2013, in Waco, Texas.
Junior Harry Jadun picked up the lone win of the day for the Spartans at the No. 6 singles position.
Knocking on the Door
While MSU holds an 0-4 record against ranked opponents this season, it certainly has come awfully close to putting opponents on upset alert.
While Coach Orlando admits it is a difficult task to win on the road, he feels his team has been able to overcome adversity on the road and has put forth the effort capable of winning.
"We've handled the challenges well," he said. "We just haven't been able to finish."
In their first ranked-match against then-No. 29 Notre Dame, the Spartans fell by a final of 5-2. However, the match was much tighter than the score appears, as MSU lost a total of six tiebreakers on the day. MSU lost the deciding doubles match in a tiebreak 7-6(7), a match in which Aaron Pfister and Brett Forman had an opportunity to clinch the match with a match point but could not capitalize. John Patrick Mullane fell in straight sets on the third singles court, but both sets were sent to a tiebreak.
In the match against then-No. 34 NC State at the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, MSU was blanked 4-0. Pfister was defeated in straight sets but both sets were decided in a tiebreak. Junior Harry Jadun lost in straight sets as well, with the first set being decided by just one break and the second set by a tiebreaker. Drew Lied, Mullane, and Forman were all in third sets before their matches went unfinished as the match had already been clinched.
Against then-No. 17 Kentucky, the Spartans lost three matches in three sets. They also narrowly missed out on the doubles point as two of the doubles courts were sent to a tiebreaker at seven-all.
The Spartans will return home to face Xavier on Feb. 22 at 12 p.m.