Already excited about playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years, the Tulane men’s tennis team has the added motivation of revenge.
First-round opponent Dartmouth was the lowest-ranked team to beat the Green Wave all season, winning 4-3 indoors Jan. 31. Dartmouth was No. 42 at the time, and Tulane was coming off victories against top-35 opponents Pepperdine and Harvard.
Tulane (15-8), ranked 31st nationally, gets its second shot at Dartmouth (18-8) on Saturday at 8 a.m. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The winner almost certainly will face second-seeded host North Carolina (25-4) on Sunday. The Tar Heels play the College of Charleston on Saturday.
“It’s pretty exciting to have a rematch against Dartmouth,” said Dominik Koepfer, Tulane’s top singles player. “We lost a really tough one the first time. We’ve learned a lot over the last four years, and it has all come together.”
Koepfer, whose only two losses all spring came to South Florida’s Roberto Cid, won his match comfortably against Dartmouth in January. The Wave was betrayed by the bottom of its lineup with straight-set losses at Nos. 4, 5 and 6 singles.
With dominant play at the top from Koepfer and No. 2 Constantin Schmitz, who went 16-3 in spring dual matches, the Wave needs only a little help from the other four spots and in doubles to advance.
“It’s definitely going to help that we’ve already played Dartmouth,” coach Mark Booras said. “We know their personnel. Our teams have both grown a lot, but we feel comfortable knowing what level we’re going to bring and also what they are going to bring to the table. It’s probably one of the better options we had because we’re not going into it blindfolded.”
A year ago, Tulane and Dartmouth were the highest-ranked teams left out of the NCAA field on an agonizing selection day.
This time, the Wave made sure history did not repeat. Tulane could have moved even higher if a few more tight matches had gone its way. Six of its eight defeats came by 4-3 margins, including one against then-No. 8 USC in January when it was one set away from pulling the upset in two separate matches, and another in March against then-No. 8 Texas Tech when Sebastian Rey had match points in the second-set tiebreak at No. 3 singles before falling in three sets.
Booras expects his team to play at the same level in Chapel Hill after what he felt was a slight dip in form in early April.
“We made the turn that we wanted to make about four weeks ago,” he said. “We were kind of complacent in a couple of areas, but we’ve gotten our doubles back on track and more than anything, it’s the excitement of postseason play. Whatever kind of motivation do you need to really just let it all go.”
If Tulane gets past Dartmouth, North Carolina figures to present a formidable roadblock in the second round of the UNC regionals. The Tar Heels beat No. 1 seed Virginia twice this year and also won the indoor national championships, so duplicating the Wave’s last round-of-16 run in 2003 will be difficult.
Booras is not looking ahead anyway.
“You have to get over the first hurdle before you get to the finish line, and we know that Dartmouth is going to be everything we can handle,” he said. “Our little bracket is going to be a really tough section.”