ERIE, Pa. - The Franciscan men's tennis team opened their season on Friday with an 8-1 loss to Allegheny College, in a rematch of a 7-2 defeat from fall play.
Making their debut at No. 1 doubles, senior captain Jarek Sulak and transfer sophomore Jake Haffner searched for chemistry on the first court; they came only points from leveling their match at 5-5 after erasing much of an early 5-2 deficit. The duo found footing down 7-5, but couldn't transform net opportunities into points, falling 8-5.
Freshman Luke Conrad got his first career spring match start beside sophomore Jack Galla at No. 3 doubles. The pair couldn't shake off a slow start against their opponents' strong service games. Galla remained aggressive at the net, bolstered by smart tennis from Conrad, but although the duo held serve three consecutive times down the stretch, they couldn't break back and surrendered an 8-3 defeat.
At No. 2 doubles, seniors Connor Jooste and John Gallagher finally demonstrated the on-court chemistry they'd been searching for. Two games down at 7-5, they leveled the match behind structured net play and a two-back service return approach. They lost the remaining two games to fall 9-7, in a match where the difference proved only a few deuce points.
Down 3-0 after the conclusion of doubles play, the Barons regrouped for singles. At the No. 1 spot, Haffner was determined to avenge a 7-6, 7-6 loss to the same opponent in the fall. Though he played well down the stretch, he couldn't finish sets on his own terms after accruing a lead in both. Haffner routinely took groundstrokes on the rise during his 6-4, 7-6(4) loss, and punctuated strokes with sufficient depth, indications toward a successful spring season.
Team captain Sulak found a groove late in the first set, rattling off successive games down 0-5; he kept composure well on the court despite sometimes frustrating play during his 6-2, 6-1 loss. Sulak welcomed back a two-handed backhand stroke, unavailable in the fall given wrist complications.
After Conrad shook off the residual rust, he turned in a solid showing at No. 6 singles, amassing a 4-1 second set lead behind decided shot selection and point construction. His 6-3, 7-6(4) loss was nevertheless a positive indication of things to come for the freshman as the season progresses.
Gallagher improved his shot depth as his second set wore on, after recording six straight games to take the opening set in his No. 3 singles match. He overcame late-match cramping for team's only match win of the evening, 6-3, 6-7,10-5.
After South African native Jooste dropped a 6-3, 6-1 match at No, 4 singles, despite regular trips to the net, eyes turned to the final match of the day: Galla's No. 5 singles matchup. The sophomore regularly ripped forehand returns but found it difficult to string points together, especially after successful serves and first volleys. He played with confidence but couldn't finish, though he earned every hard-fought point of his 7-5, 6-3 loss.
After the match, valued team member and regional tennis expert Stephen Bolster said "I really enjoyed what I saw today."
The Barons will search for their first win of the spring season on Saturday, in a 1 p.m. home showdown with Ohio Northern University.