Syracuse Tennis Is Trying to Party Like It’s 2016
By Cameron Ezeir
CitrusTV Tennis Beat Reporter
The last time the Syracuse Tennis program, under the direction of head coach Younes Limam, recruited three or more foreign-born freshmen was the 2015-16 season. That year, the Orange won their first two games of the season and added more salt to their opponents wounds by racking up seven consecutive wins to begin their 2016 campaign. Plus, SU’s third opponent a mere five years ago: the Cornell Big Red.
Whether its destiny, fate, or by some sort of chance, the 2020 SU Tennis team checks off all these boxes. The three new freshmen, Polina Kozyreva, Zeynep Erman and Kim Hansen, were all born outside of the United States. Syracuse is coming off consecutive wins over the University of Richmond and VCU down in Virginia’s capital. Last but not least, their next and third contest is against none other than the Cornell Big Red.
Before believing in coincidences or assuming that the Orange will string together seven in a row to start the season, let’s pick apart these similarities piece by piece.
Part 1: The Freshman Factor
There are both advantages and disadvantages to being a freshman. Low expectations at the jump is an immediate advantage as no one knows what to expect from a newly-recruited player. Another benefit involves the element of surprise. The opponent is unable to scout or prepare for players that they have yet to watch. On the other hand, less experience at the college level means a tougher time adapting to the format and playing for a team. Also, competing against athletes who are older is a change compared to playing in an age-limited tournament or match.
All these reasons represent why being a freshman is a two-way street. However, Syracuse’s freshman class in the 2016 season produced the best tennis player to ever wear the Orange uniform.
This does not mean that Hansen, Erman, or Kozyreva could have a chance at matching Gabriela Knutson, who concluded her Syracuse career with the most wins in program history at 179. Instead, it show how Coach Limam succeeds in recruiting future standout performers and molding them into great players. Also of note, Knutson was the only freshman to make it 4-for-4 in her first two matches, winning two doubles and two singles matches, but Hansen has already done that this year.
Standing at six-feet tall, Hansen has already propelled both singles and doubles to a whole new level, dominating at the net and ranking No. 48 in doubles alongside Sonya Treshcheva. Not to mention, the other two freshmen on this team enter the season with a blank canvas as well, both recording winning seasons in the fall. The resemblance of youth is uncanny, but at the end of the day, the results trump the possible maturation of underclassmen over their career.
Part 2: Two Down, Five to Go?
Although it is a new decade, the last one saw no Syracuse Tennis team win more than five games in a row to start the season… except one. That’s why the 2015-16 season was a magical one, including wins over Boston College, Columbia, St. Johns, and Cornell during that stretch. Fast forward to this year, Syracuse is already two wins in and faces all four of those aforementioned teams in their next six games. Make of it whatever you wish, but this year’s team looks like the group that took the Drumlins’ courts in 2016.
Syracuse defeated Richmond and VCU in their last two contests by the scores of 6-1 and 5-2 respectively. Limam and company are currently 2-0 for the third straight year and will seek to continue this perfect start with nine straight home games on deck. The Orange hold an advantage at home with a 31-12 record at Drumlins since 2016. So, before believing that seven straight to start this season is a far-fetched claim, the statistics say otherwise.
Part 3: The Clash of Colors
The Orange will seek their third win in a row for the third straight year against none other than the team that Syracuse beat in match 3 back in 2016: Cornell. That match ended 6-1 in favor of the Orange, solidifying their dominance to start the season and previewing what was to come. This season, Syracuse faces the Big Red, but this time, Cornell enters the match with an 0-3 record.
Five years ago, SU won the doubles point, winning two of the three doubles matches. While in singles, Syracuse won 5 of 6 matches. This same scenario occurred in SU’s 6-1 win against Richmond.
So whether it is crazy to believe in coincidences or crazy that these seasons have so much in common so far, one cannot dispute the similarities. Now, the narrative of the 2016 season is in play for the Orange to start the new decade, and whether that is a blessing or a curse is left up to the seven athletes who take the courts. As an audience, we just have to wait and see.
firstname.lastname@example.org | @EzeirCameron