The Elon University men’s tennis team’s season may have ended before it ever started. The 2015 Phoenix never gained any momentum and was often stuck looking for answers.
“We certainly struggled this year,” said head coach Michael Leonard. “We never got over that hump.”
The Phoenix was eliminated from the Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Tennis Championship in the semifinals to host College of William & Mary 4-1 on Saturday, April 18, and ended its season with a record of 10-13.
“That doubles point ended up being really crucial,” Leonard said.
Elon won the No. 1 doubles match, while William & Mary earned a victory at No. 3 doubles, leaving it all down to senior Jordan Kaufman and sophomore Chris Humphreys at No. 2 doubles.
Trailing 7-6 at the end of the match, Kaufman and Humphreys held serve, fighting off several match points to force a tiebreaker. The Phoenix duo looked to have the momentum when they jumped out to a 6-2 lead and had match points of their own. But the Tribe came back on their home court to escape with a tiebreak victory and the doubles point.
“Doubles was a good summary of how the whole day would turn out,” said senior and CAA Player of the Year Stefan Fortmann. “That definitely took away some of the energy into the singles because we knew how important the doubles point would be.”
The Phoenix failed to start fast in singles play, dropping four of the six opening sets.
“[William & Mary] came out with more energy and were better than us early on,” Leonard said.
Junior Robert Lindgren fought back from trailing 1-5 to win his first set 7-5 and it appeared Elon was getting back into the match. But it was too little too late for the Phoenix, as Humphreys fell in three sets at the No. 6 position to provide the knockout blow to Elon’s season.
“They had some bigger guys than us with a little bigger serves and we weren’t able to take control of some points we needed,” Leonard said.
A victory for Elon would have not only put the Phoenix in its third straight conference championship match, but it would have also bucked some concerning trends from the 2015 season. Defeating William & Mary would have been just the fifth time all year Elon followed up a win with another win. The Phoenix came into the matchup with William & Mary after back-to-back wins. The only time Elon won three in a row was when it beat Campbell University Feb. 11 and North Carolina A&T and Presbyterian College Feb. 14.
Some players received outside recognition for their performances during this streak.
Fortmann said with the way the season was going, he never thought about individual accolades. Instead, he made sure he and his teammates were in a position to win each match.
Elon also took home other yearly honors. Kaufman was named to the first-team All-CAA in singles alongside Fortmann.
Senior Dan Sablik was named on the CAA All-Academic Team. Fortmann and his doubles partner Kowalski received All-CAA honors.
With six seniors leaving the team following the season, a new era of Elon men’s tennis is on the horizon. Fortmann said he thinks the struggles this season can be a rallying cry for next season.
“As a competitor, losing a close match in the tournament should motivate you for the next year,” he said.
Fortmann found himself in a similar season in his freshman year where the team limped to a 9-15 record. The next two seasons, Elon won a pair of regular season Southern Conference regular season titles and a conference tournament championship in 2014. Fortmann said that while this season was much better than the 2012 campaign, he hopes it can have a similar effect moving forward.
“You’d hope to see this loss motivate the guys who are staying behind to follow some of the things we did over the years,” he said.