Boston College men’s tennis has always struggled to make an impact in conference play. It doesn’t help that the Eagles compete in the ACC—one of the sport’s most talented leagues in the country. Unfortunately for BC, 2019 proved to be a repeat of past seasons. While the Eagles did notch a number of non-conference victories, they went winless against ACC foes and bowed out in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Still, the season was not a total loss, especially as BC gave several conference opponents a much bigger fight as the year drew to a close.
Best Moment: Eagles Start Fast, Tally Three Early Victories
BC’s highlight of the year was short-lived and came quite early in the 2019 campaign. Following a loss in the season opener at St. John’s, the Eagles rattled off three straight wins over non-conference teams to start the year 3-1. BC quickly shook off its defeat to the Red Storm by sweeping Connecticut and then tallying a tight 5-2 victory over rival Boston University before concluding with a 6-1 triumph over Southern New Hampshire. These victories gave BC a good start to the year, but the quality of the aforementioned opponents simply did not compare to the level of competition that the Eagles would face when they kicked off their conference slate.
Worst Moment: BC Picks Up Just One Win in Span of a Month and a Half
In a season where the Eagles finished 10 games under .500, there were a number of lows, but the team cratered when it lost nine of 10 matches in a stretch that lasted for a month and a half. BC sandwiched a sweep over Sacred Heart with nine other losses. The brutal skid began on Feb. 15 with a defeat to Louisville and continued with disappointing non-conference losses to Brown and UC Irvine. Then, the Eagles were blanked by the likes of Florida State, Miami, and North Carolina State. Following the Sacred Heart victory, BC did not stand much of a chance in its next three matchups, as it was dealt further blows by Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Harvard. This disastrous skid sunk the Eagles’ season and was a full embodiment of the program’s immense struggles.
Most Valuable Player: Derek Austin
Though 2019 was not the best overall season for the Eagles, Derek Austin stood out as one of the few bright spots. The junior occupied the No. 1 singles slot for most of the season, and he played well against tough competition. Overall, Austin finished with a 12-13 record in singles and recorded some impressive wins throughout the season. He won in straight sets against Louisville’s Christopher Morin-Kougoucheff and defeated Richard Ciamarra of Notre Dame in a third-set tiebreaker. During the first round of the ACC Tournament, Austin earned his most impressive victory, as he beat No. 92 Simon Beaudry from Clemson. Meanwhile in doubles, Austin played with both Conor Mullins and Sean Mullins, accumulating a 12-11 mark. Austin’s biggest highlight came in a matchup against Harvard, where he and Conor Mullins upset the No. 33 ranked duo of Andy Zhou and Logan Weber. Austin was rewarded for his efforts by being named a member of the All-ACC Third Team. His selection marked the first time an Eagle has received All-ACC honors since 2012.
Rookie of the Year: Max Mendelsohn
BC didn’t actually see any freshman take the court this season. Jayson Barros was the lone freshman on the roster, but he did not play in any matches. But Max Mendelsohn—a transfer from Pepperdine—suited up on the court in his first season for the Eagles, and he played quite well. The sophomore sported a 12-12 record in singles on the year. His most noteworthy wins came against UC Irvine and Georgia Tech. At Irvine, Mendelsohn earned one of the Eagles’ two points, as he downed Daniel Gealer in straight sets. And then in the ACC regular season finale, Mendelsohn beat GT’s Phillip Gresk in a three-set thriller at home. Mendelsohn’s overall singles record was one of the best on the team, and he’ll prove to be a valuable piece for the team moving forward.
Top Three Storylines:
1) Conference Struggles
In a conference as stacked as the ACC, the cards have never been in BC’s favor. Simply put, the Eagles have been outmatched by their conference opponents every year since they joined the ACC. Over the last four seasons, BC has compiled a 1-48 record against ACC foes. Last year, BC upset Miami, 4-3, to register its only conference victory of the season. Yet the Eagles were unable to perform a similar feat this year. In fact, BC never recorded more than two points in a match, and it finished with a 0-13 record in conference play. While the Eagles have held their own outside league competition, posting a 7-4 record against non-conference opponents this season, that same level of success has not translated to the conference portion of their schedule.
2) Flashes of Potential
While the overall numbers are certainly discouraging, there were several instances where the Eagles showed how much potential their roster really has. For example, most of BC’s lineup fell in a match against Wake Forest, then the No. 2 team in the country and the eventual national runner-up. But Markus Nordby played some of his finest tennis while manning the No. 2 singles slot. And Nordby even managed to top his opponent, Rzerat Cungu, after beating him in a superbreaker.
One could also look at the matchup against then-No. 11 North Carolina. Five out of the six Eagles playing in singles lost their matches in straight sets, but Wills Tutecky did not. Operating at No. 6 singles, the junior won his matchup over Ladd Harrison in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6, to account for BC’s lone point. There were a handful of other occasions when a few Eagles stepped up to the plate in big matches.
Even so, college tennis is a team sport in which four points must be won in order to secure a victory. One player may play very well and earn a win over a tough opponent, but that only accounts for one point. Oftentimes, the Eagles would secure at least one point in the match—even against some of the best teams in the nation, but these efforts would be spread out across many different matches and did not come together in a single performance. After all, BC only maxed out at two points when up against ACC teams this season. It is quite difficult to string together complete team efforts when facing some of the toughest programs in the country, but if the Eagles fail to do this, then their woes will only continue.
3) Late Season Push
In their final games of the season, the Eagles finally started to play as a cohesive unit. After dropping nine of 10, BC rebounded with a victory over Holy Cross. This win stirred up a run in April. The Eagles only notched a single point in Durham against Duke, but both Austin and Markus Nordby forced third sets in their matches. BC proceeded to pick up two points in losses to both Clemson and Georgia Tech before earning a win in the regular season finale against Bentley, 7-0.
After the conclusion of the regular season, BC was pitted against Clemson in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Despite the rough season, BC came ready to play, determined to strike an upset. And quite frankly, the Eagles came very close to making it happen. The Tigers edged out BC to wrap up the doubles point, but BC did not break. The Eagles quickly evened up the match, as Clemson’s Pierre Louis-Dodens retired in the first set against Mendelsohn while he was down, 3-1. Austin then gave BC a 2-1 lead as he defeated Beaudry in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2. Following a first-set tiebreaker loss, Nordby dropped his match to Teodor Guisca, tying the score.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, two three-set matches did not swing in their favor, as Conor Mullins and Alexander Chieffalo each fell to their opponents in three-set marathons. Meanwhile, Chris Grasel was locked into a duel with his opponent that went unfinished with Grasel up, 9-8, in the third-set tiebreaker. The final score, 4-2, simply does not do the Eagles justice in how hard they fought the Tigers. While this type of effort was not on full display during most of the season, it came through in the final month and certainly bodes well for the 2020 season.
Perhaps the move into the Margot Connell Recreation Center next year will beckon in a new era for the program, but this seems unlikely given how the past few seasons have gone for this team. Over the last four years, the Eagles have notched just one conference win. Granted, BC competes in one of the toughest conferences in the nation and simply does not have the resources that bigger programs possess. Working in the Eagles’ favor is the fact that aside from the departure of graduate student Conor Mullins, the rest of their starters will return. And two new faces will make their way to Chestnut Hill in the fall, as Max Motlagh—a five-star recruit—and Mason Fung—a four-star prospect—join the team. Motlagh is only the five-star player BC has successfully recruited in the last seven years. The road to a top-tier tennis program is a winding one, but there is still optimism that BC can log a few conference wins and begin to climb out of the cellar of the ACC next season.
Featured Image by Delaney Vorwick / For The Heights