Matija Pecotic '13 (Photo: Kevin Whitaker '13)

The college tennis career of Matija Pecotic ’13 has been anything but ordinary. In a sport in which most top players are known commodities from the junior circuit, Pecotic is now ranked No. 7 nationally despite coming from the island of Malta — not exactly a hotbed of tennis talent — and having to send coaches his own scouting tapes. The powerful lefty was Princeton’s only recruit in the last decade not to have a page on the recruiting website tennisrecruiting.net; by the end of his freshman year, he was the Tigers’ top singles player. And before matches, Pecotic pumps himself up by listening to quotes from an unlikely muse — former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

So it is somewhat fitting that Pecotic’s Ivy League career will end in unprecedented fashion. After going 7-0 in No. 1 singles play for the third consecutive season, the Princeton senior is all but certain to add the 2013 Ivy League Player of the Year trophy to his 2011 and 2012 hardware when the league’s honors are officially announced next week, becoming the first three-time winner in the award’s 27-year history.
“It’s tough to not think about it when you’re playing … you’re only human, and it’s on your mind,” Pecotic said of his third unbeaten season. “You play on different courts, different surfaces, different conditions — that’s probably the toughest part.”
The quick victory gave Princeton a 2-0 edge in the team competition, but although the hosts won the first set in four of the remaining five matches, Columbia engineered a memorable comeback to claim the team competition 4-3. That victory may carry enormous weight when the NCAA tournament bracket is released April 30; the Lions and Tigers entered Sunday’s match ranked 47th and 48th, respectively, both near the bubble for the 64-team event (since 31 automatic bids are reserved for league champions). The Ivy League has sent three teams to NCAAs only once, in 1998, and with two head-to-head losses in the last two months, Princeton looks to be behind Columbia (as well as league champion Harvard) in the pecking order.

Regardless of his team’s fate, Pecotic will certainly be playing in May at the NCAA singles championships. After going 26-2 in the fall season — with his losses coming in the two most competitive fall tournaments — the senior jumped all the way from No. 67 to No. 2 in the national rankings; he is currently seventh after a 16-3 spring. The last Ivy League player to finish a season in the top 10 is Harvard’s James Blake, who was ranked No. 1 in his sophomore season of 1999 before turning pro.

Pecotic has been quiet about his future plans for most of his college career, but he said Sunday that he will likely try to play professionally for at least a year or two after graduation. For now, though, his sights are on next month’s NCAAs. After losing a close opening-round match in his first tournament appearance last spring, Pecotic has higher expectations this time around. “It’s totally different this year,” he saidLast year, I didn’t know what was going on … This year, I consider myself one of the favorites to go very deep into the tournament.

Quick takes

In its fourth nationally televised game of the season, MEN’S LACROSSE stomped Harvard 14-6 to secure a spot in the four-team Ivy League Tournament. Goalie Eric Sanschagrin ’15 made eight saves in his first start of the season, while Princeton held a whopping 45-23 advantage in shots. Cornell has already clinched the outright league title and home-field advantage for the league championshipbut a victory over the No. 6 Big Red next weekend (in the Konica Minolta Big City Classic, also on ESPNU) might put the Tigers in at-large discussion for the NCAA tournament, should they fail to win the Ivy’s automatic bid.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE won 15-13 at Dartmouth to finish at 6-1 in the Ivy League, second to undefeated Penn (which topped the Tigers in overtime Wednesday). Ranked No. 13 before a strong week, Princeton is in solid shape to make the NCAA tournament — especially after it expanded to 26 teams this season — but the Tigers are capable of winning the Ivy tournamentas they did in 2010, to end any doubt.

WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD’s rookie sensation, Julia Ratcliffe ’16, set a new Ivy League record in the hammer throw for the third time this season. Her toss of 225 feet, 9 inches is the nation’s second-furthest this season, and she came within a foot of becoming one of the top 10 NCAA hammer throwers of all-time.

Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and former Daily Princetonian sports editor.