Coach Jeff Zinn knows his team is better than the final result.
And even though Penn State’s men’s tennis squad dropped two matches to Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Illinois during the weekend, Zinn said he feels his team has hung tough and played good tennis.
“We’re so close,” Zinn said. “Our guys try really hard. We’ve been in every match this year.”
The Nittany Lions began their weekend home stint with a showdown against No. 46 Northwestern but dropped the match, 5-2.
However, Penn State came out with good energy and enthusiasm, and it forced some tight matches. Doubles pairings Russell Bader/Bryan Welnetz and Taylor Cohen/Tomas Hanzlik played strong in doubles, with Bader and Welnetz forcing a long set before ultimately falling, 9-7.
Singles play featured the same level of close competition. Bader took down No. 107 Spencer Wolf of Northwestern to earn Penn State its first point of the match, while Cohen also earned a point for the Lions, winning his match in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3.
Penn State kept pace with Northwestern throughout, thanks in part to some well-placed returns and some excellent corner shots.
It wouldn’t be enough, however, as the Northwestern Wildcats squeaked out victory after victory. Senior co-captain Chris Hasyn took his match to three sets before falling, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-1, while Bryan Welnetz did the same but dropped his match, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
The close play was notable for the Lions, who are still missing their No. 1 singles player Jason Lee to injury.
“Without Jason, everyone has had to play up in the rotation,” Zinn said. “Its tough, but it also gives us some great experience. It’s why I’m proud to see them performing so well.”
With the loss against Northwestern still in their minds, the Lions endured another close match on Sunday, but lost to No. 23 Illinois, 6-1.
While the score may indicate a blowout, the match was anything but. The Lions had service plays while up 5-4 in four different sets, but couldn’t capitalize.
“Being up 5-4 in so many sets, we had to take some of those,” Zinn said. “That’s how you win matches.”
The Lions ended up dropping every singles match except for one, as Welnetz earned a three-set victory after the match was decided, 4-6, 7-6, 11-9.
Of particular note for Penn State was freshman Tomas Hanzlik, who took on the No. 5 singles player in the country and two-time Big Ten Athlete of the Week, Dennis Nevolo.
Hanzlik jumped out to an early lead and kept Nevolo on the ropes before the ranked Illinois player managed to put the match away, 7-5, 6-3.
Hanzlik’s great play against a superior opponent symbolized the Lions overall weekend.
“I feel like I can play against anyone,” Hanzlik said. “It was a really close match. We still need to work on executing on big points as good teams like Illinois can take advantage of your mistakes.”
The Lions continue to hope that if they can keep things close against good teams, they’ll be able to snag a victory.
“We’re so close,” Bader said, echoing his head coach. “We just have to get back on track next weekend.”