With a small but mighty group of competitors and an unwavering coaching staff, the University of Redlands men's tennis team reemerged as a nationally-ranked team that clawed its way back into contention with commitment, focus, and skill. During the 2018-19 campaign, the Bulldogs impressed with a 13-6 overall record that included a 5-2 mark in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action to tie for second place. In addition, the Maroon and Gray produced three All-Americans and three All-SCIAC honorees in an iconic renewal of Bulldog men's tennis that serves as great motivation for the future of the program.
During the fall portion of the season, the men's tennis team took on top competition at the annual Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) West Regional Fall Championships in Claremont. The three-day outing provided excellent opportunities for high-quality matches that culminated in impressive showings by the newer members of the team. This early foreshadowing of the team's depth set the tone for a successful spring.
Although February began with five unprecedented losses, three of which were exhibitions, Redlands rebounded with a six-match win streak that covered most of the month. It began with an 8-1 thrashing of Rhodes College (TN) that included solid results from first-year Andrew Yip (Honolulu, HI). He teamed up with first-year Thomas Reznik (Belmont, CA) for an 8-4 win at No. 3 doubles before cruising to a 6-1, 6-0 result at the No. 6 singles spot.
As an unranked team at the time, the Bulldogs faced a huge test when they battled it out with then-No. 34 Christopher Newport University (VA). Redlands rallied back from a 2-4 deficit to secure a hard-fought, 5-4 thriller, with senior Chase Lipscomb (Irvine, CA) and Yip stepping up in their must-win singles scenarios. With the match score now tied, the Maroon and Gray looked to Reznik to complete the comeback with a huge, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4) victory at No. 4.
With solid play throughout the lineup, Redlands continued its lucrative run over the next four matches by defeating Haverford College (PA), No. 31 Swarthmore College (PA), No. 40 Southwestern University (TX), and No. 19 Whitman College (WA). In three of these matches, Reznik came up with the clincher in a remarkable display of guts and poise. Sophomore Brysl Libao (Redlands, CA) revealed his steady consistency by going undefeated at No. 5 singles. He also joined forces with junior Brad Cummins (Rancho Mirage, CA) as a formidable doubles duo that did not drop a match during this stretch.
Amidst this successful stint, the Bulldogs returned to the national rankings for the first time since March 29, 2018. With a 4-2 record, Redlands landed at No. 34 almost a year later.
The Whitman win proved to be one of the biggest of the season, as the in-region opponent owned a national ranking of 19th at the time. Against the Blues, Redlands gained a 2-1 lead through the doubles before junior Andrew Leahy's (Claremont, CA) 6-2, 6-1 showing at No. 2 gave the home team a 3-1 lead. Finally, Lipscomb and Libao sealed the deal for the Bulldogs with their straight-set results.
After a gut-wrenching 4-5 loss to No. 22 Tufts University (MA), the Maroon and Gray quickly regrouped by firing off five wins in a row that included a pair of positive outcomes by the same 5-4 score. First, Redlands edged No. 21 Caltech in a hard-fought, conference clash. Although the now-No. 22 Bulldogs built a 4-1 lead, they had to dig deep to finally capture the deciding point. With his 10th consecutive singles win, Libao came up huge for the Maroon and Gray in a 6-7(7), 6-4, 6-4 thriller on court five.
On April 2, Redlands remained relentless with another 5-4 decision, with this one coming against then-No. 20 Gustavus Adolphus College (MN) in an epic comeback. With back-and-forth play throughout the lineup, the match was even at four, with the final point coming off of Reznik's racket once again. For the sixth time this season, he scored the clinching victory, as he earned a 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 triumph to propel his team past the Golden Gusties.
Late into April, the Bulldogs remained in the hunt for the SCIAC Postseason Tournament with consecutive 7-2 wins against Occidental College and Cal Lutheran University. Over the two contests, Redlands prevailed in five out of six doubles matches, as highlighted by Libao and Cummins winning twice at No. 1 and Leahy and Lipscomb prevailing both times at No. 3.
Despite falling to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, the Maroon and Gray took care of business against Whittier College with a sweeping result the very next day. First-year Henry McNeal (Coronado, CA) and Lipscomb joined forces at No. 3 for an 8-4 triumph in their regular-season doubles debut, while McNeal also put together a 7-5, 6-3 win at No. 6 singles.
Although a disappointing 4-5 loss to Pomona-Pitzer moved the Bulldogs into a tie for second place, they finished out the regular season with a solid 8-1 victory against Chapman University on Senior Day. The lone senior, Lipscomb, registered wins in doubles and singles for an excellent, last hurrah on Verdieck Courts.
After the completion of the conference season, the Bulldogs gained three All-SCIAC honorees in a fine display of the team's talent and depth. Lipscomb became a First-Team recipient for the fourth time in his career, while Leahy and Reznik received their inaugural such awards.
Lipscomb carried that success to the 119th Annual Ojai Tournament, where he advanced all the way to the final of the singles draw while dropping only one set in four matches. In addition, Cummins and Libao took on Yip and Reznik in the consolation final of doubles, with Libao and Cummins prevailing in an 8-7 win for an exciting all-Bulldog championship.
In early May, the third-seeded Redlands men's tennis team squared off against No. 2 Pomona-Pitzer in the SCIAC Postseason Tournament semifinal. The Bulldogs gained a 2-1 lead through the doubles but struggled to close out the singles matches en route to a 2-5 loss.
Although it missed out on a team bid to the NCAA Championships, Redlands cheered on Libao and Cummins in doubles and Lipscomb in singles during the NCAA Individual Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Libao and Cummins made it to the quarterfinals of the national tournament to earn All-America status in their first appearance. In addition, Lipscomb captured a first-round victory in singles to repeat as an All-American for the third time in his career.
Furthermore, Head Coach Geoff Roche was named the ITA/Wilson Division III West Region Men's Coach of the Year, as voted upon his coaching peers. With a seven-member squad that possessed the heart of a bulldog, he guided the men to a remarkable run that included a return to the SCIAC Postseason Tournament, three NCAA qualifiers, and a solid overall season.
Finally, after an unranked start to the campaign, the Bulldogs finished at No. 18 in all of NCAA Division III.
Although the loss of Lipscomb is not to be taken lightly, the Bulldogs count on the experience and dedication of the returning squad to push the program upward. With a newfound sense of commitment and appreciation for the team's success, Redlands holds high expectations for what will unfurl for this excellent and talented group of young men.