Sneaking up Slowly

Sebastian Lena

“I think we can draw a lot of positives from this match.”

You could mistake UMass Boston’s men’s tennis coach Eric Berg’s comments as reflecting on an incredible upset by his Beacons. However, the score sheet showed 8-1 in favor of the Beacons’ opponent.

Then again, not many teams can muster up a point against the #10 regionally-ranked MIT Engineers.

“They’re ranked tenth in the region, so we knew it’d be a tough match,” Berg remarked. “I think, as a whole, doubles played real well; we were in all of the matches. I don’t think the score reflected how close it really was.”

The Beacons’ Ali Al-Sabbagh and junior Paul Braude gave the Engineers’ number two slot team all they could handle, just barely losing 8-6, while the other two slot matches resulted in a pair of 8-3 decisions.

The Beacons have a history of being successful in doubles.

“With doubles you don’t find too many blowouts,” Berg explained. “It’s a lot more strategy oriented, so it allows teams that might not have as much talent as their opponent to upset a tougher team.” The Beacons’ strategy seems to have been well drawn out, as their number one and two slot teams combined for an 11-5 record. However, only junior Paul Braude returns from those pairings.

The Beacons only return three players from last year’s team. However, they welcome in players who are expected to help the Beacons become top dogs in the Little East Conference.

“More than half the guys are new,” Berg said. “The three that came back have all shown a lot of dedication and willingness to make a lot of sacrifices for the benefit of the team. We’ve added some players that have allowed us to become better at all nine positions and make our goals more reachable.”

Newcomer Jovan Jordan-Whitter is one of those players.

Jordan-Whitter scored the only points for the Beacons against MIT, upsetting regionally-ranked Van Tilburg, 7-5, 6-7 and 10-8. With that kind of talent at the top of the order, it would be hard not to expect the Beacons to do big things.

Coach Berg couldn’t agree more.

“Everybody thinks we have a good chance to win the Little East Conference this year,” Berg stated. “It’d be nice to play in the NCAA tournament.”

Berg, referring to the automatic spot in the NCAA tournament given to the Little East Conference winner, isn’t the only believer.

“I think the team can climb mountains that have not been conquered by UMass [Boston] in a long time,” Junior Paul Braude stated. “Hopefully we can take the conference this year and make a run in the NCAA tournament.”

Such high expectations are great to have, but mean nothing without dedication and hard work. Fortunately for the Beacons, they’ve got that covered.

“The guys practiced in the fall for the first time,” Berg added about their hard work. “I think we have a very clear picture of what we want to achieve. I’ve noticed an increased dedication from the players.”

Being successful means more than winning and losing to the Beacons. Just ask the players.

“I just want to bring energy to the team,” says Al-Sabbagh. “Even if it’s on the sidelines after I lose. Just to bring energy, and make them feel my presence. It’s all about team chemistry.”

Paul Braude believes the same.

“To me, it’s to connect more and play as a team,” he remarked. “The main goal is to go out and have fun, and hopefully have a great season as well.”

With three dedicated returning starters, a head coach who focuses on the positives without forgetting the negatives and a team that plays as a unit instead of fending for themselves; the Beacons are primed to make a run at the LEC title and even more.

The only question is; will the opposition have enough in the tank to keep up with them?