Tennis Faces Tough Spring Break Slate

Both men’s and women’s tennis faced a series of tough matches against some of the best teams in the country during a spring break trip to California. Despite strong individual performances, both teams saw up-and-down results.

Damien Ruparel '22 hits a backhand shot. Ruparel won his singles matchup March 18. Photo courtesy of Clarus Studios.

The Amherst men’s and women’s tennis teams might not have gotten a spring break, but they at least got a break from New England’s not-quite-spring weather: both teams made the trip out to California over the break for a slate of matches against some of the best teams in the country.

The women lost to their first two matches before rounding out the trip with a victory; the men started the week with a run of three wins, before losing two straight matchups. In every case, the teams faced high-caliber, nationally ranked squads, providing some good early season experience before NESCAC play starts this weekend.

Women

Both teams started the spring season at about the most visually stunning neutral site one can imagine — the courts at Pepperdine University, which sit on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The change in climate, alone, created new challenges for the Mammoths. “The tennis in California is astoundingly different from east coast tennis,” said Deliala Friedman ’25. “The play is slower, and the battle is as much with the player as it is with the sun.”

The women — entering the season with a No. 9 national ranking — began their season with a thriller on March 14, losing 5-4 to No. 8 Sewanee: The University of the South. The Mammoths’ top two doubles teams fell in eight-game pro sets, but the freshman-senior pairing of Amy Cui ’25/Anya Ramras ’22 pulled out an 8-3 victory.

Amherst put up a good performance in the singles matches, highlighted by a 6-1, 6-3 victory by Jackie Bukzin ’22 in the number-one spot and a 6-1, 6-2 win for Friedman. Nevertheless, the Tigers won the necessary three out of six matches to take the overall competition 5-4, handing the Mammoths their first loss of the season.

The Mammoths returned to action two days later, on the other side of Los Angeles County against No. 3 Pomona-Pitzer. Things looked good through the doubles matches, with the pairings of Friedman/Julia Lendel ’24 and Cui/Ramras leading the Mammoths to an early 2-1 overall lead. The Mammoths stumbled as the matchup moved to singles, though. Bukzin pulled out another win in the one slot, winning a tiebreaker 10-8 after splitting the first two sets. However, the Mammoths couldn’t keep up the performance across the rest of the singles ladder, with the two-through-six slots all falling and Ramras standing out as the sole player to take a set off her opponent.

The tough matchups kept coming. The Mammoths stayed on the campus of the Claremont Colleges the following day to face the No. 4 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas. The Mammoths lost all three doubles matches and didn’t fare well in the singles, either. Bukzin and Friedman again proved to be the bright spots. Bukzin won in dominating fashion, losing just four games en route to a 6-3, 6-1 victory. Friedman won her first set, before dropping the second 6-1. She rallied, though, winning her second 10-8 tie breaker of the trip to win at the four spot. The Mammoths lost the match 7-2 overall.

Friedman credited her success in tiebreakers to the tight-knit nature of the team. She said that, “the key in those high-pressure situations was my teammates cheering [me on] on the sidelines  — it really created an environment of support and allowed me to focus without distraction.”

That spirit began to pay off. Despite a tough first three matches, the Mammoths closed the trip out on the upswing. They faced No. 31 University of Redlands on March 18, and rolled through the doubles matches, winning at every position. They then took five out of six of the singles matches, as Bukzin led the way with a breezy 6-0, 6-1 victory. Cui won her singles match in a third-set tiebreaker.

Though the Mammoths began their roadtrip with a two losses, they returned to Amherst with a first spring win in hand and a great deal of early-season experience against top competition. They will return to the court on Saturday, March 26, opening NESCAC play at home versus Connecticut College. Matches will start at 10 a.m.

Men

The men, who entered the season unranked, got off to a more successful start in Malibu. They faced No. 18 Sewanee on March 15, their first match after nearly five months. The senior-freshman doubles pairings of Damien Ruparel ’22/Sujit Chepuri ’25 and Harris Foulkes ’22/Ed Opie ’25 gave the Mammoths a 2-1 lead through the doubles matches before the Mammoths took the singles in dominant fashion, winning at all six spots. Chepuri was the only player to lose a set to his opponent. He rallied back after a 3-6 loss in the first set to win a second-set tiebreaker before dominating a deciding 10-point tiebreaker 10-1.

The Mammoths continued to roll through their second match on March 16, with a 9-0 victory over No. 32 Cal Lutheran University. Opie and Chepuri were the only players to drop sets in singles, but both were able to get the job done in their 10-point tiebreakers.

Yet another ranked win came the next day. Things started rocky in the doubles, with only Ruparel/Chepuri winning their eight-game set, and doing so by a margin of 8-6 in a tiebreaker at that. But the Mammoths righted the ship in the singles matches. All but one Mammoth walked away with wins, and the Mammoths secured a 6-3 win to start the season with three straight victories.

On March 18, the Mammoths headed to the Claremont Colleges for the Stag-Hen invitational, joining a field with some of the top teams in the nation. They began the tournament against the No. 3 team in the nation, Washington University in St. Louis. Things looked dire from the outset, with the Mammoths dropping all three doubles matches. The margins were narrow, though, with the pairings of Foulkes/Opie and Kobe Ellenbogen ’25/Micah Elias ’24 both falling 8-7. The Mammoths turned things around in the singles. They took three out of the six matches, with Ruparel, Foulkes, and Willie Turchetta ’22 notching wins. That was short of the five they needed, though. They were bounced from the winners’ bracket with a 6-3 overall loss.

They then moved into the consolation bracket, taking on No. 15 Gustavus Adolphus. The Mammoths again fell short, with just Ellenbogen/Elias winning their doubles sets. They split the singles spoils, with Ruparel, Foulkes, and Opie carrying their matchups, but still lost 5-4 overall. The final consolation match was played the following day, against No. 5 Emory. It proved the toughest of the bunch, with the Mammoths losing 8-1 to close out their roadtrip.

It certainly wasn’t the result the Mammoths wanted at the Stag-Hen Invitational, but they nevertheless headed back to the East Coast with a solid trio of ranked wins under their belts. Like the women’s team, the men will return to the court on Saturday, March 26, beginning their NESCAC season at home versus Connecticut College. Their matches will start after the women’s matches end at 2 p.m.

Correction, April 20, 2022: A previous version of this article stated that the women's team lost all three of their matches. They won one and lost two.