Zack McCourt ’15 (Office of Athletic Communications)
Zack McCourt '15 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Three weeks before the men’s tennis team starts its Ivy League season, the conference is shaping up to be one of the toughest that Princeton has seen in years. As the Tigers rounded out this weekend’s 7-0 double-header victories over Army and Binghamton, Princeton solidified its spot on the national stage. Yet even at No. 25 in Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings, Princeton is the third-best Ivy team in what could be one of the most exciting seasons in Ancient Eight history.

Leading the pack is senior Zack McCourt, ranked 124th in singles and a member of last year’s first-team All-Ivy League singles team, building on that season with multiple clutch victories at the No. 1 spot this year. McCourt said that he is trying to end his collegiate career with “a punch and a bang,” with mental maturation and match-day focus being a critical component of that. A strong Ivy schedule only adds fuel to the fire.

“Competing at a higher level helps the team to improve even faster, so it’s definitely a privilege — particularly when you’re being tested on a national scale,” McCourt said.

The Tigers were forced to fill holes in their roster left by Ivy heavyweight Matija Pecotic ’13 and last year’s graduates Dan Davies and Augie Bloom. Sophomores Thomas Colautti and Alexander Day have been instrumental in adding depth to the lineup and clinching wins in the hot 13-3 start to this season. More importantly, McCourt added, is that this year’s team just loves to compete.

“The sophomore class returns with invaluable experience, while a deep freshman class fortifies the remainder of the lineup,” McCourt said. “I can’t remember ever playing with a group of guys who have so much fun on the court as our team does now. That kind of competitiveness coupled with the team’s talent and outstanding work ethic has made all the difference.”

Princeton has three more matches at the USD Challenge in San Diego standing between it and its highly anticipated Ivy League opener. Last year, the Tigers stumbled early on against Penn in a tough loss that made all the difference, as the Tigers split the remainder of their conference matches. Beyond holding on to their national ranking, the Tigers need to start this year’s Ivy season off on the right foot if they want to compete for the league title.

The impressive performance that the team put up playing some of the tennis-powerhouse schools in the South last month is a positive start. With a pair of wins in which then-No. 50 Princeton upended top-40 schools Mississippi State and Clemson, the Tigers have shown that they can capitalize on a strong doubles game as well as clinch critical singles matches to make them a top-contender for the Ivy League title this season.

“Having seen our transformation over the past four years, it’s extremely special to be part of a team that’s doing this well,” senior Michael Katz said. “We don’t want to stop here. We’re not satisfied until we carry this success over into our Ivy season.”

Quick Takes

The No. 13 women’s basketball team officially secured its trip to the NCAA Tournament with two easy wins over Cornell and Columbia this weekend. Friday’s 70-37 win over the Big Red and earned Princeton at least a share of the Ivy League title, while Saturday’s 63-44 victory over the Lions gave the Tigers the championship outright. Sitting at 29-0 in the season and 13-0 in conference play, the Tigers have passed the 1970-71 Penn men’s team for the best start in Ivy League basketball history. Princeton plays second-place Penn on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Philadelphia to close out its regular season, hoping to keep the record perfect.

For the men’s basketball team’s final home game, the Tigers squeezed by Columbia in an 85-83 thriller to improve the team to 15-14 overall, 8-5 Ivy. The contest was much more heated than Princeton’s 66-53 victory over Cornell on Friday night, when senior Clay Wilson led the Tigers with 15 points. On Saturday, however the Tigers scored the final 11 points to make it a last-minute comeback as the defense struggled to contain the Lions’ Maodo Lo’s impressive 37-point game. Princeton sits in third place in conference standings, right behind Harvard and Yale, which tied for first place and will play for the Ivy’s NCAA bid on Saturday. Even though the Ivy title is off the table, the Tigers need to put up a win in their final regular season game on Tuesday night against Penn (9-18 overall, 4-9 Ivy) on the road if they want a sixth consecutive winning season.

The No. 11 women’s water polo squad won out all of its games at the Harvard Invitational this weekend, outscoring its opponents 37-16 and improving on an almost unblemished record. The Tigers only loss is a 9-8 heartbreaker to Indiana on the first weekend of the season in February. Princeton hits the road next weekend, traveling to San Diego for the Aztec Invitational and what will be its toughest competition of the season.

Three wrestling standouts earned bids to the NCAA Championships at the weekend’s EIWA meet. Sophomore Jordan Laster (141 pounds) and junior Chris Perez (149 pounds) each lost in the finals of their respective weight classes. Abram Ayala ’16 placed third in the 197-pound division to guarantee a second consecutive NCAA trip. Princeton placed seventh in the team standings, its best EIWA finish in 14 years.