The stakes were high in East Lansing on Saturday.
“There were all kinds of stuff going on — I had a nosebleed,” Gjis Linders said.
The indoor air hit Linders in the heart of the men’s tennis season — cold weather, end of the out-of-conference schedule and the Big Ten season beginning right around the corner. It was also another good opportunity for Michigan State to knock off a top 50 team to improve its potential NCAA tournament bid.
Dartmouth — Match No. 1
The Spartans began the first match of the day by sweeping No. 50 Dartmouth in the doubles matches which put them off to a good start. The No. 39-ranked Spartan doubles pair of John Patrick Mullane and Harry Jadun knocked off No. 18 Dovydas Sakinis and Chris Kipouras, 6-2. Following the win, they now will move up a few slots in the national rankings.
In singles, however, Mullane sat out due to his lingering injury of shoulder soreness. He was questionable leading into the weekend.
“He had a doctors appointment on thursday and they came up with other conclusion,” head coach Gene Orlando explained. “He’s been cleared to play and that’s why he did play doubles, but it’s not making the strides of improvement and it’s still hindering him. Hopefully we’ll find a way for him to compete.”
MSU needed three singles match wins to knock of Dartmouth. Brett Forman had a straight-set win over No. 108 Chris Kiporaus in singles to get the first, but the Spartans dropped four of its six singles matches on the day to lose to 4-2, which was completely identical to the loss against Memphis the previous week.
Youngstown State — Match No. 2
Following the loss to Dartmouth, morale was down heading into the locker room.
“I knew the guys were down and I told the guys ‘we competed as hard as we can and we gave ourselves a chance,’” Orlando said. “That’s what this program’s all about. If you give your everything, you have nothing to be ashamed of. If we get better starts, we don’t let them have the match.”
Youngstown State was the next team up about an hour and a half later, and MSU had some last-minute roster changes. Around thirty minutes before the match, Gjis linders talked to coach and decided to sit out against the Penguins.
“I’m nurturing a back issue which i’ve been walking around with it the whole week and it flared up in the third. Your muscles get tired when you give it your all and it wasn’t 100 percent and I knew it was going to get worse. It’s just precautionary. ”
With Mullane and Linders out of the lineup for singles, coach Orlando went to the bench and called up Mac Roy, who was not originally planning to play because of a team issue. He was welcomed back to practice with the team on Friday and most likely got the call due to roster depth, although not confirmed by coach Orlando.
Along with Roy stepping in to compete, everyone else moved up a few spots for singles. Forman was playing no. 1 and Harry was playing no. 2 singles. Roy got the call and delivered, who defeated Bassem El Mekawi in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. Doug Zade got the call at No. 5 singles and made it count as well.
“It’s great for (Brett Forman) and those guys to get the experience, Orlando said. “Someday, that might be his (Brett’s) position and you have to get comfortable with that position, it’s not easy. I’m excited he got that opportunity and the opportunity to get a win.”
“It was fun (playing ones),” added Forman. “I didn’t think too much about it but it’s one extra thing to think about. It shows we have good depth and anybody can play with anybody.”
In doubles matches for MSU, two of its duo tandems were down 3-2, but both came out on top.
In Zade and Koenen’s match, they won on a double fault by Youssef Sherif on Youngstown state to win the match, 6-3. Sherif threw his racket from the baseline to the net, walked over to the bench and put his face inside a towel. The momentum in doubles began to swing for the Spartans.
“It was tough at first, but everyone is used to stepping up especially being here four years now. We stayed focused, stayed loose and kept going for our shots. And that’s what kept us swinging.”
Roy and Dube won its match 6-4 to clinch the doubles point for the Spartans.
“At first we were a little down. But in the locker room we told ourselves we have to end with a win. It was more mental and physical and we just focused in and got the job done. I just stuck to my gameplan and stayed aggressive.”
Every Spartan won its first set in singles and only trailed once in one singles match throughout the entire 6-0 victory over Youngstown. Although they dropped to Dartmouth, there is still a lot to play for this season.
“It’s a big loss, but we’ll have more opportunities,” explained Dube. “There are a lot of good teams in the big ten and there’s a lot to look forward to. We’ll be able to make a run at the end.”
“It really comes down to having a solid big ten season,” Orlando added. “I mean, flat out. We’re going to have to be 7-3, 6-4 if we want to have a chance and then have a good Big Ten tournament. There are opportunities but have to take one at a time. Let’s take care of getting better and improving outside. The more opportunity the young guys get, experience will play off. They’ll have the ability to close it up.”
* * * * *
John Patrick “JP” Mullane had a second opinion on Thursday and was cleared to play. However, had to sit out during singles for Dartmouth and all of Youngstown State. According to coach Orlando, Mullane has done everything from cortisone shots ot rehab. Orlando noted that there is a chance that he will play lower in the lineup and they are still trying to figure everything out. Mullane also noted that it is either nerve damage or tendonitis and he is hoping for nerve damage so that he can savior his remaining year of eligibility for tennis.
* * * * *
Alex Scharg is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Scott Wasserman and Anthony Serafino/Impact Sports