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July 4, 2013

2013 Summary: Bulldog Men’s Tennis Thrives among Nation’s Best during Solid Season

With impressive talent, heart, and depth, the University of Redlands men's tennis team continued its trend of taking on top competition en route to putting together a 15-11 overall record during the 2013 campaign.  The Maroon and Gray excelled in the highly-touted Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) with a third-place finish before making its 12th trip to the NCAA Division III Championships during Head Coach Geoff Roche's 14-year tenure.  The campaign culminated in the program's highest year-end national ranking since 2009, coming in at 14th among the best of the best according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA).

Following an exceptional alumni day that included multiple decades of Bulldogs, the 2013 men's tennis season began with a trio of matches against formidable NAIA opponents.   Redlands captured its inaugural win of the campaign during its third outing with an impressive 5-4 effort over 11th-ranked Point Loma Nazarene University.  Down 3-4 in the team scoring, the Bulldogs had no room for error and needed both of the remaining singles matches to pull out the comeback victory.  Sophomore Taylor Hunt (Seattle, WA) stepped up in a big way, fighting for a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-3 outcome at No. 3.  With the team's fate on his racket, senior Connor Hyde (Peterborough, NH) finished the positive rally by defeating his opponent at the No. 1 position in a thrilling third-set tiebreak, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(6).

A week later, the momentum stayed with the Bulldogs, who dismissed Caltech and Brandeis University (MA) on a busy Saturday by a combined score of 17-1. 

After faltering to the 11th-ranked Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz, Redlands responded with its longest win streak of the season with four victories in a row, including three against nationally-ranked foes.   One of the highlights of this stretch came in a 7-2 upset of No. 7 Case Western Reserve University (OH) on March 11.  After nabbing a 2-1 lead in doubles, the Maroon and Gray stunned the Spartans by winning the first three singles matches in straight sets to seal the overall victory.  Sophomore Patrick Lipscomb (Irvine, CA), Hyde, and Hunt all took care of business at their respective positions of Nos. 1, 3, and 4 to put this one in the books for the Bulldogs.

Following this run of success, Redlands climbed to No. 11 on the national poll for the team's highest showing during the 2013 season.

However, the celebration was suspended, as the Bulldogs fell on March 16 to one of their four ranked opponents within the SCIAC.  While taking on No. 6 Cal Lutheran University, the Maroon and Gray faced an early deficit after two tiebreaker losses in doubles and then struggled to make up the difference in singles, leading to a 7-2 defeat.

Continuing its tough schedule that included 12 rivals among the nation's top 30, the U of R took on the fifth-ranked team in the county when it welcomed Bowdoin College (ME) to Verdieck Courts.  The Maroon and Gray mustered an early 3-1 advantage with two doubles triumphs and Lipscomb's 6-2, 6-2 performance at the No. 1 singles slot.   But the lead did not hold up, as the Polar Bears came storming back to hand a difficult 5-4 loss to the home team.

Redlands got back on track with 8-1 performances over SCIAC newcomer Chapman University and non-conference opponent DePauw University (IN) in late March.  While playing the Panthers, the Bulldogs cruised to a 4-1 lead with a pair of doubles victories and back-to-back, straight-set performances in singles by Hunt and senior Anish Nanda (Cerritos, CA).  The Maroon and Gray then looked to sophomore Nick Cummins (Rancho Mirage, CA) to secure the deciding point with his 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 2.

However, the Bulldogs were tested by consecutive one-point losses to No. 3 Williams College (MA) and 14th-ranked Middlebury College (VT) during a three-day stretch.  

Redlands quickly rebounded by capping off a nine-day, six-match segment in March while remaining in the mix of conference contenders with a 7-2 triumph over the No. 22 Poets of Whittier College.  The Bulldogs swept the doubles, with sophomores Max Licona (Culver City, CA) and Teddy Jones (St. Louis, MO) contributing an 8-6 win at the No. 3 spot.

While taking on its last ranked non-conference opponent of the season, the Maroon and Gray rallied for an important 6-3 showing over No. 17 Gustavus Adolphus College (MN) on April 3.  Tied at three all once again, the Bulldogs needed to take two of the final three singles matches still left on the courts.  Refusing to let this opportunity slip away, Redlands gained positive results from every position, with Hunt winning at No. 4 and senior John Brewer (Portland, OR) taking down his No. 5 opponent to secure the deciding points.

The Bulldogs closed out the SCIAC dual-match season by winning two of their final three showdowns.  Redlands cruised by Occidental College in an 8-1 performance before knocking off No. 24 Pomona-Pitzer Colleges on Senior Day by a score of 7-2.  All three seniors ---Nanda, Brewer, and Hyde--- put the stamp on their unique Bulldog careers by contributing victories to the Maroon and Gray's final home match of the regular season.

Prior to the SCIAC Championship Tournament, various members of the men's tennis team competed at the 113th Ojai Valley Tournament, with two semifinal appearances highlighting the Bulldogs' success.  Lipscomb punched his ticket in singles and also advanced to the round of four in doubles with sophomore Gram Leahy (Portland, OR).  The duo went on to finish the season with a final national ranking of 13th in the country.

Seeded third with a 5-2 SCIAC record, Redlands headed to Whittier College for the SCIAC Championship Tournament on May 3-4.  After blanking the Tigers of Occidental in the opening round, the Bulldogs came up short of the upset against the No. 5 Kingsmen of Cal Lutheran.  Competing in the third-place match of the event, the Redlands men's tennis team completed the SCIAC season with a tough 5-4 loss to Pomona-Pitzer.  However, by combining the dual-match results with the tournament outcome, the Bulldogs held onto their third-place position in the final conference standings.

After the conclusion of the SCIAC campaign, the U of R learned that Lipscomb was named to the All-SCIAC First Team for the second time in two years and Cummins collected back-to-back Second-Team honors.

Equipped with a national ranking of 13th as well as an incredibly strong schedule, Redlands remained hopeful for an at-large berth to the NCAA Division III Men's Tennis Championships.  When the selection announcement came out, it included the Maroon and Gray, which looked forward to making its second consecutive trip to the "Big Dance" and its 20th in the last 22 seasons. 

The Bulldogs headed to nearby Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges for a first-round showdown against the 28th-ranked University of Texas-Dallas.   A doubles sweep and a pair of two-set victories in singles propelled Redlands to an impressive 5-0 triumph over the Comets.  The No. 2 tandem of Cummins and Hyde initiated the team's scoring with an impressive 8-1 showing, while Hunt recorded the deciding point in singles by dismissing his No. 4 counterpart by scores of 6-1, 6-2.

The U of R moved onto the second round of the NCAA Championships, which set up a rematch with familiar foe and top-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.  Despite leaving it all out on the courts, the Maroon and Gray fell short of the upset and suffered a 5-0 defeat in its final contest of the 2013 season.

Nonetheless, there was still excitement to come for Redlands, as Lipscomb was selected to compete in the NCAA Individual Championships for Singles.  With a pair of opening-day victories, he earned a spot in the quarterfinals to become an ITA All-American for the second time in his career while serving as the sole representative of the SCIAC in this round of the tournament.  Amidst a tight match, he lost to the eventual national champion by scores of 7-6, 2-6, 6-3.  With the quarterfinal appearance, Lipscomb equaled the Bulldog men's tennis program's best individual singles finish under Head Coach Geoff Roche since 2005.  The squad produced quarterfinalists in back-to-back years with Brian Murphy '04 advancing in 2004 before Michael Thoeresz '05 represented the Maroon and Gray in 2005.

In addition, Lipscomb's stellar sophomore campaign included the honor of receiving the ITA's West Region Player to Watch Award.  During the NCAA Championships, he was also recognized as the ITA National Player to Watch, making him the first-ever Bulldog from the men's program to garner this accolade.  He was joined by junior Jessica Ly (Torrance, CA) of the Redlands women's tennis team as the female recipient of both honors.

Among exciting wins, individual accomplishments, national rankings, and much more, the Bulldog men's tennis team has much to celebrate in 2013.  While the loss of the graduating seniors provides a definite challenge, the veteran returnees boast the experience and desire for continued success that will complement the decorated history of the Redlands program.  Under Roche's leadership, the Bulldogs sit poised for yet another memorable campaign that promises to include both national and conference achievements.