Photo by Ellen Friedlander
CLAREMONT, Calif. (May 8, 2016) – The Caltech men's tennis team recorded its best finish at the SCIAC Championships since 2005, placing sixth with a victory over Occidental College sandwiched between defeats to Whittier College and Chapman University.
#5 Caltech 4, #4 Whittier 5
The Beavers battled the Poets to open the tournament in an instant classic that stretched across two days due to multiple rain delays. Things began the same way they did in the regular season matchup just one week prior, with Whittier claiming #1 doubles but junior Ruthwick Pathireddy (Cerritos, Calif. / Whitney) and freshman Derik Nguyen (Anaheim, Calif. / Canyon) came up with a break in the final game to take #2, 9-7.
Having given up a 4-1 lead in the previous matchup, junior Morgan Lebby (Laguna Beach, Calif. / Laguna Beach) and freshman Zixiao Li (Coppell, Texas / Coppell) had no intentions of doing the same this time. Although the pair failed to take advantage of multiple chances to break Whittier's serve, they held their own as well through to 7-7, when a brief delay was caused by some light rain.
With a point awarded to the Beavers on a code of conduct penalty during the delay, Lebby and Li were able to overcome Whittier taking two of the first three points and hold serve, then break the Poets for crucial 2-1 match lead. Singles play had commenced as the final doubles match conclude in an attempt to beat the weather, but only Pathireddy and Li were able to finish a first set before the rain returned, necessitating the postponement of the match to the following morning.
The tension was palpable in Claremont on Saturday morning with the guarantee of no worse than fourth place in the balance. Things started off well for Caltech as Pathireddy's opponent at #3 defaulted the match, giving the Beavers the 3-1 lead while Li led at #6 and freshman Andre Liu (Novi, Mich. / Novi) won a fifth straight game at #2 to take the first set, 7-5. The tide began to turn, however, even as Li locked up #6 (6-2, 6-4). West Region No. 22 Andrew You keyed the Whittier rally with a win at #1, followed by David Stanko and Tyler Linscott winning at #4 and #5 to level the match, leaving just Liu and the Poets' #1 player last year, 6'5" Samuel Farmer. The rookie more than held his own after taking the veteran to a third set the week prior but again went down in a third set, 7-5, 3-6, 3-6.
#5 Caltech 5, #8 Occidental 0
Just an hour after the final singles match versus Whittier had ended, the Beavers were tasked with dispatching Oxy for the second time this season and were more than up to the challenge. Despite the potential for both fatigue and heartbreak after the epic opening-round match, Caltech swept doubles, with only #2 particularly close as Pathireddy and Nguyen again won 9-7. Senior Rushikesh Joshi (Sunnyvale, Calif. / Archbishop Mitty) and Li quickly closed up shop at #1 and #6 for the win and chance to play for fifth place the following day.
#5 Caltech 4, #6 Chapman 5
Fortune was on the Panthers' side on Sunday morning as Chapman swept doubles, with Pathireddy and Nguyen putting up the closest fight but falling in a tiebreak, 9-8 (3). The Beavers took first sets at three courts in singles, but needed five to rally for the win and were able to come up with just four. Pathireddy, Nguyen, junior Ramsathwick Pathireddy (Irvine, Calif. / Whitney) and Li each registered victories at #3 (6-3, 6-3), #4 (6-1, 6-4), #5 (3-6, 7-6 , 10-5) and #6 (6-2, 6-3).
Head Coach Mandy Gamble's squad finishes the season with an even 10-10 record, the program's most wins since 2000 and the first time Caltech has finished at or above .500 since 1994. In addition to notching the program's first win over a nationally ranked opponent and earning their first-ever national ranking, the Beavers rewrote a good portion of the record books. Li outpaced the previous single-season record for singles victories (14), besting Lebby's 12 set in 2014, while also posting a team-record 8-2 mark in conference play between #4, 5 and 6 singles. Ruthwick also tied Lebby's previous record of 12 winsand became the program's career leader in singles wins with 29, while the Pathireddy twins maintained their program record for doubles wins as a pairing, recording their 21st this season. Ruthwick and Nguyen recorded an historic doubles win as well, marking the program's first individual victory over a regionally ranked opponent in at least the last five years.