Momentum can be a dangerous and deciding factor in sports, and after defeating Rice University on March 9, the Penn State men’s tennis team now has it.
The team’s win could not have come at a more opportune time because it will face Big Ten opponents for the rest of its season.
“The win was really important for us because it was the first time we lost the doubles point, but still won the match,” sophomore Tomas Hanzlik said. “I’m sure it will help us in the future.”
The team’s doubles pairs struggled in its trip down to Texas over spring break. Penn State played two matches against Rice and the University of Texas and lost both of its doubles matches, the latter being a 5-2 defeat on March 7.
“We’re really close to breaking through,” coach Jeff Zinn said when discussing the team’s chances in doubles matches. “If we just keep working on the little things, I think good things are going to happen in the Big Ten.”
The single matches were where Penn State shined. Matt Barry, Tomas Hanzlik, Russell Bader and Roman Trkulja picked up wins to lead the Lions to a 4-3 victory. The team sprinted onto the court to celebrate with Trkulja’s after his three set victory sealed the win for Penn State.
Hanzlik and Barry were the only players to pick up wins against both Texas and Rice. For Barry, it was his seventh and eighth consecutive victories this season, an impressive feat for the freshman from Lido Beach, N.Y.
“It’s pretty amazing what he’s done so far,” Zinn said. “He really has a lot of inner drive and competitiveness, and he’s been very beneficial to our team.”
Barry lost his first two matches to start the new semester, but has rallied and reeled off eight straight singles victories to improve his record for the year to 20-8.
“Hard work in practice and mentally keeping myself calm during the matches has helped me win lately,” Barry said. “I pretty much force myself to help the team by winning the matches.”
Barry said he does not feel any added individual pressure, though because he feels that his team is always there to pick up the slack if he happens to falter.
After the win over Rice, the Lions moved up to number 69 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll, a feat that did not go unnoticed by the team.
“We’ve had so many close matches and we thought we could have been ranked before,” Barry said. “It’s nice to be recognized as a team that can take out other ranked teams in the Big Ten.”
The Lions now have off until Friday, March 22, when Indiana comes to State College for a Big Ten clash. Zinn said the win against Rice was huge for the team because it gives everyone more confidence heading into that match.
The win against Rice and our new ranking has energized the team,” he said. “Winning is contagious. If you’re winning and winning close matches especially, it just bodes well for future matches.”