Fall Championships

The Penn Quaker men’s tennis team won the ECAC Tournament for the first time in 22 years earlier in October. Then the men’s golf team complemented that win with a prolific victory of its own, becoming the first Ivy League team to win the prestigious Macdonald Cup tournament at Yale. Both accomplishments signal a raising of the bar and higher expectations for the tennis and golf programs.
The tennis team’s ECAC victory was a hard-fought battle, from which the Quakers proved to be the best in the northeast. Sophomore Brandon O’Gara appreciates being apart of the program’s history.

“Being able to beapart of the first Penn championship team in 22 years is an accomplishment that is hard to describe,” he said.“I feel very lucky to have only waited one year, and hope to continue to succeed in the future. The best part about winning ECAC’s was thepicture of the team holding up the trophy after we had just beaten Brown. The feeling for the rest of that day was unbelievable.”

The team stayed positive throughout the tournament, but at one point uncertainty had arisen.

“The only time during the tournament where our team got stretched thin was against Columbia in the second round,” said O’Gara.“We were down 3 matches to 2 with two left.Joe Lokand Mikhail Bekker came up huge and got us through to the next round.”

O’Gara had his own personal moment where he helped propel the team through history: “My tournament-changing performance came against Penn State.I had played two tough matches in the previous rounds, and did not come out on top.But I kept my head up and was able to clinch the match in the semifinals against Penn State’s Bradley Hunter 6-4 7-6 to send us to the final against Brown.”

Winning a tournament of this magnitude takes focus and determination across the board, and O’Gara was consistent with adapting as the stakes got higher. Brandon recalls, “There was some extra pressure because I wasn’t sure if my match was the final match on the court.I just stayed focused and worried about my court and figured the job would get done. Coach (Mark Riley) helped us stay focused by making sure we all worried about our own matches.He didn’t want us depending on other people on the team. He kept everything on schedule and made sure we were disciplined throughout the weekend.”

And the job did get done that weekend, as Penn proved to be the best squad on the courts. O’Gara wants to focus on continuing to develop as a tennis player, and do what it takes to get his game to the next level. At the same time, he recognizes the leadership on the team as an important part of the team’s success.

“The leadership on the team stems down from the top,” he said.“Coach Riley and (Josh) Axler are always sending positive vibes through the team.Also, captains Jimmy Fairbanks and Bekker keep motivation high, and the team chemistry on our team is unrivaled.”

The camaraderie on the tennis team and high level of play are attributes that the men’s golf team utilized to achieve momentous success of their own. Its win at the Macdonald Cup was the first in Ivy League history, ironic because the historic tournament is hosted every fall by Yale. Penn’s victory is something that proves not only that the Quakers belong with the top programs in the northeast, but can beat them.
Freshman Michael Blodgett values the success he has experienced early in his Penn career.

“The best part was seeing how happy the team was and how much it meant to the upperclassmen that have yet to experience something like this,” he said. “It was an amazing feeling knowing that we did it as a team!”

The golf team possessed a positive state of mind during the entire tournament, and this mindset proved useful in gaining the win.

“There was never a time that we thought we might lose,” said Blodgett. “I don’t think any of us knew how close the standings were going to be. There was definitely the thought in my mind that every single shot would make a difference. The only extra pressure was the pressure put on ourselves — our team was so focused, yet free from any bad thoughts, that we know what we had to do and we did it without any fear of losing.”

The tournament was marked by terrible weather, with extreme rain and high winds—in fact, every other golf tournament in the northeast that weekend was cancelled. Yet the golfers overcame the inclement whether, and the long duration of play required the players to call on their training and preparation.

“Our team has been working out and improving our endurance and stamina so that we are able to stay focused longer,” said Blodgett. “Our hard work finally paid off when it became apparent that some teams were not able to stay focused in the long round at Yale combined with the horrible weather.”

Blodgett knows the importance of getting off to a good start, and the freshman appears wise beyond his years so far.

“The Macdonald Cup is one of the oldest collegiate golf tournaments in the country,” he said. “It has been more than 30 years since the tournament began, and there had not ever been an Ivy League winner. Penn is the first! It’s an incredible feeling. At the time, it was my first collegiate tournament, and to start my career that way was really special. But most importantly, it confirms that this is where I was meant to be, and that this win is the first step toward making Penn a top-ranked golf program in the country.”

As Blodgett reflects on his maturation into collegiate athletics, he gathers a few insights.

“In high school, you get five or six guys together who can play golf, but only want to compete to skip school,” he said. “In college, you get five or six guys together, and every single one of them has a chance to win and they all want to win as a team.

“I recently learned that golf is a game that only takes 90 seconds to play, and for the past 12 years of my life I’ve been practicing for moments like these where I needed to play my best 90 seconds of golf. I had every confidence in the world that I could make every stroke my best stroke—I never felt any pressure.”

Co-captain Derek Rogers also appreciated the big win.

“The team really connected that week,” he said. “Everyone was on the same page, and we were all motivated, despite the horrible weather. In addition, it was great to see the younger guys playing well.As the team’s No. 1 player, sometimes there can be a lot of pressure to play well.In this tournament, I had the highest total score, but I was relieved because everyone else played well. Despite the weather, Coach (Rob Powelson) remained out on the course all day providing us with dry towels, snacks, and drinks. He was dedicated to winning in spite of the circumstances. We beat every good team in the Northeast district. Two teams from that district are invited to NCAA regionals each year, and showing that we can beat them proves that we are ready to compete at regionals.”

Both the Penn men’s tennis and golf teams have elevated their respective programs with big wins in fall tournaments, victories that Ivy League teams do not often earn—or, in the case of the Macdonald Cup, ever. These wins further illustrate that the Red and Blue sports teams are ready to emerge onto the national scene.

Written by Von Bryant