Last season, the men's tennis team was at a distinct disadvantage in the league. Princeton had lost four out of its top six players in 1996 to graduation. The Tigers' losses were reflected in their record, as Princeton ended the season 13-11. Last season was a transition year, as many young first-year players were asked to step up and fill in some rather large gaps.
And they have.
While Princeton still has a lot to prove this year, the team is confident that last year's adversity proved to make the team even stronger.
"This year we have an experienced lineup," senior captain Jon Gilula said. "We look to capitalize on this."
All but two members of the team are returning players. In addition, the No. 2 slot is currently held by a freshman – Kyle Kliegerman. The No.1 spot will be manned by Gilula, but as of now the rest of the ladder is uncertain.
The Tigers' focus will not be on winning individual matches as much as getting the team to work in synch to be strong contenders in the Ivy League.
"Anything this year is going to be done through a complete team effort," Gilula said. "That's what Princeton has done in the past."
Princeton also recently hosted the Farnsworth Invitational Tournament Jan. 30-Feb 1. Although the Tigers' singles players failed to capture a win, three doubles pairs made it to the main draw quarterfinals. Princeton began its team season last weekend when it fell to the University of Miami, 6-1.
This week Princeton has its work cut out for it, as the team challenges Rutgers today and St. Johns on Thursday. To make things even tougher they also face Penn State Saturday, a team which has proven to be quite a formidable opponent in the past.
"(Penn State) will be a big match for us," Gilula said.
Last Fall it was the Nittany Lions who stopped Princeton in its tracks in the ECAC tournament. Penn St. halted the Tigers in the quarterfinals, 4-3, leaving them in fifth place overall. Harvard took home first place that day.
"We did okay last fall," Gilula said.
This spring the Tigers are looking to improve, and to challenge Harvard for supremacy in the East.
Princeton has been working hard over the winter, spending many days indoors, well below the light of day in Jadwin Gym. The Tigers are charged and ready to take on the regular season this spring.
Early in the season, Princeton is already one member short. Sophomore David Schonbraun will miss several weeks due to an injury. Last season Schonbraun was one of the top players on the Tiger roster.
During spring break the team will go someplace warm - Southern California. The Tigers will play four matches in preparation to move to the courts outside later this season.
"We've been playing indoors since the fall," Gilula said. "This is a trip to prepare us to play outdoors."
This year Princeton will have tough competition in the Ivy League, as they face a strong Harvard team, eager to avenge the loss that the Tigers handed it last season.
"Harvard is tough," Gilula said. "They are a legitimate top-20 team."