March 7, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
The Michigan State men's tennis team will look to rebound from a tough Big Ten loss to Michigan on Feb. 28 when it heads to Boston, Mass., to take on 33rd- ranked Harvard on Saturday. Play is set to begin at 12 p.m. inside the Murr Center.
The Spartans opened up Big Ten conference play on Feb. 28 on the road when they paid a visit to rival Michigan. The Wolverines, then-No. 26, were the Spartans' sixth ranked opponent of the season.
After losing the doubles point, MSU rallied to win three singles matches, but could not come up with a fourth singles win, and MSU fell to U-M by a final of 4-3. For the second time this season, MSU lost to a ranked opponent by just a single point (Feb. 16 vs. No. 34 Tulsa). MSU is still seeking its first win this season over a ranked opponent.
"The guys played well and competed hard," head coach Gene Orlando said. "I like how we played, unfortunately it just didn't go our way. It was a heck of a match but we've got to move on. We know our time is coming. We are keeping the mindset that we're doing all the right things."
The loss dropped MSU to 5-6 overall and 0-1 in conference play. MSU has lost its last three of four matches.
When it lost the doubles point to U-M, it was the fifth time this season MSU has not won the initial point. MSU is 0-5 when losing the doubles point.
The record may not accurately reflect it, but the Spartans have been literally match points away from turning a close loss into an upset win in their favor. In fact, MSU's combined team singles and doubles records are comparable to every other Big Ten team who has played at least nine, but no more than 12 matches already this season.
MSU's team singles record this spring is 37-22, which is good for second-best in the conference when using the established criterion. No. 31 Penn State is 50-14.
MSU's team doubles record is 17-12, which is third best in the conference when using the criterion.
The Crimson will come into Saturday's matchup ranked No. 33 nationally behind a 6-4 record. Harvard has four-ranked wins on its schedule thus far, defeating Minnesota, Tulsa, Cornell and Northwestern. Dave Fish is in his 38th season as head coach.
The Crimson have had strong singles play on courts one and five, going 6-1 and 7-3, respectively, on those courts. Denis Nguyen is 5-1 on the top court, while three different players have contributed to the 7-3 mark on the fifth court. Nguyen is also ranked No. 39 in the nation in singles. Sebastian Beltrame is ranked No. 106 nationally in singles and has a 3-5 dual record this spring. As a team, Harvard is 25-24 in singles in spring play, going just 2-5 on court two and 1-8 on court three.
In doubles, Nguyen and Casey MacMaster are 5-4 on the top court. The duo is ranked nationally in doubles, coming in at No. 13. As a team, Harvard is 6-4 on courts one and two but just 3-6 on court three, good for a 15-14 overall tally.
"This is exactly what we wanted," Orlando said. "Another opportunity against a ranked team. We're right there, we might have fallen out of the rankings, but we're right there. We're going to make that break through."
Lied-ing with a Pfist
MSU has been led on court by senior co-captains Drew Lied and Aaron Pfister. Lied and Pfister have been the Spartans one-two punch all season, as they have competed in every match on the top two singles courts.
Lied is 7-3 overall, including 2-1 on court two and 5-2 on court one. Lied has won his last two matches and has played his last six matches on court one.
Pfister is 7-4 overall, including 1-3 on court one and 6-1 on court two. Pfister has won his last two matches and five of his last six. He has played his last six matches on court two.
"Those two have really helped take this program to this level where we are," Orlando said. "When they first came in, we weren't at that level. We had great seniors when they were freshmen, who helped them grow as young players. They blossomed and continued to grow each year. They continue to elevate their games. They have a love for the game and competing."
When the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll was released Feb. 25, MSU fell out of the rankings. MSU had previously appeared in 28 straight polls, dating back to April 3, 2012. MSU will have ample opportunities to work back into the rankings as 13 of its final 14 matches of the season will be against ranked opponents. MSU is currently 0-5 against ranked foes this season
MSU will have a quick turnaround getting back from Boston as the Spartans host Western Michigan March 12 for a midweek matchup and its penultimate non-conference match. MSU then hits the road again March 15 when it travels to Louisville, Ky., to take on the 29th-ranked Cardinals for its last non-conference match of the season.