By Brandon Scalea
Following a 12-match losing streak, the men’s tennis team picked up its first MAAC win of the season on April 19, defeating rival Siena by a score of 4-3 in the first match of a doubleheader.
Against Siena, the men were led by freshman Chris Popso, who picked up victories at first singles and first doubles. His wins were by scores of 6-2 and 7-5, and 8-6. In the first doubles match, Popso teamed up with sophomore Ahmed al-Shawafi for the win, 8-6.
“Both Ahmed and I played well in doubles, and we both showed up during major points,” Popso said. “We had come so close on multiple occasions, so it felt great to get that first win. We didn’t necessarily play up to our potential, but we played smart tennis.”
Also for the Broncs, a pair of freshmen contributed, as Jeremy Van Herwarde picked up his fourth win of the season at fifth singles, winning 6-1, 6-1. Agaazi Berhane recorded his fifth victory of the year at sixth singles, winning 7-6 (7-3) and 6-4.
Berhane said that a win for his team had been a long time coming.
“It felt great,” he said. “We wanted to end the season well with a victory and we felt that we were battling hard enough to beat them. Being a part of a losing streak isn’t fun, but the feeling of snapping it is way better.”
In third doubles, the combined efforts of these two freshmen earned them another win, 8-5.
Popso feels that picking up that first win is pivotal for the program moving forward.
“Although it seems a little bit mediocre to be talking about our first conference win, it’s the catalyst we need to accomplish bigger things in the future,” he said. “It has been a long time since Rider has been out of the last place spot in the conference, so it is a good feeling to be a part of a new wave of tennis that is being established here at Rider.”
After the win against the Saints, Rider traveled to Monmouth for its final match of the season. Unfortunately, the momentum did not carry over from Lawrenceville to West Long Branch. The Hawks ended the Broncs’ season on a slightly sour note, sweeping them 6-0.
At second singles, Van Herwarde put up the best fight for Rider, winning two games. However, he ultimately lost the match by a final score of 6-0, 6-2.
Though Popso shined in the first outing of the afternoon, he was beaten by Monmouth’s freshman Ale Gomez Estrada in first singles, 6-0 and 6-1. In third singles, Berhane had a similiar outcome, falling to sophomore Luke Adamus 6-0, 6-0.
It was ultimately a rough season for the men, as they finished 2-18 and 1-6 in MAAC play. Popso believes that only progress can be made in the coming years — as the Broncs will return all seven letter-winners for the fall 2015 season.
“This summer is going to be very important in securing a stronger foundation for next year,” Popso said. “Collectively as a team, we all have more ambitious goals for next season. With this in mind, we all have to train harder and be ready to compete with some of the top teams in the MAAC.”
Berhane feels that Rider’s experience next fall will be enough to move them to the top half of the conference.
“Our experience is key because we know what to expect from every Metro Atlantic team next season,” he said. “We might not win the conference, but we all expect to improve our position in the table. This team will only get better; we are hungry for more wins. We just have to stay motivated.”