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Natalie Guerra / Staff Photographer

After missing three weeks due to injury, Victor Pham will hope to lead the Lions to their fifth consecutive Ivy League title.

For the past five seasons, men’s tennis has shined in moments of adversity. Amid injuries, graduation, a lack of outdoor courts, and balancing a rigorous Ivy League education to boot, the Lions have yet to back down from a challenge.

This weekend’s match at Cornell is no exception to this trend, as the Lions and Big Red are on a collision course in a make-it-or-break-it match that should be one for the ages.

The Light Blue (16-4, 5-1 Ivy), which remained at No. 16 in this week’s edition of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, must defeat Cornell to capture a fifth-straight Ancient Eight crown and keep its hopes of hosting its first-ever NCAA Regional alive.

Meanwhile, the Big Red (10-10, 3-3 Ivy) has won three straight matches and could have a good chance at advancing to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team with a victory over the Lions. Furthermore, the two programs have engaged in plenty of intense affairs over the years, and the Lions possess a six-match winning streak against the Big Red.

Cornell last defeated the Lions in 2013 at the ECAC Team Championships in Ithaca. The 2013 Light Blue bounced back in conference play, topping the Big Red 4-3, and has not looked back since.

But this season, the stakes for each team may have never been higher.

Yet head coach Bid Goswami downplayed the narrative that this match is different than any other Ivy match, and noted that his team was preparing like it had all season long.

Last weekend against Brown and Yale, the Lions bounced back with two dominant victories showcasing the team’s tremendous depth in both matches.

That depth will likely receive a much-needed boost this weekend, as junior Victor Pham, ranked No. 23 in the most recent ITA rankings, will continue to inch closer to 100 percent as he prepares for his fifth match since missing three weeks due to a shoulder injury. Goswami said that Pham was working very hard to recover, and that he felt that this week’s practice would prove beneficial for the junior in order to rebuild his consistency.

Last weekend, returning to the lineup was junior Timothy Wang, who had missed three matches with an illness. Wang, who has never lost an Ivy League match in his career, has served as co-captain alongside Pham, but the duo has only seen the court together against an Ivy opponent once this season. With Pham and Wang likely in Goswami’s lineup this weekend, Goswami hopes that the team can replicate the performance exhibited last weekend.

In doubles play, first-year Austen Huang replaced first-year Rian Pandole in the lineup at third doubles after the Harvard match. Since Huang’s inclusion, the team has won every doubles point, and the duo of sophomore Jackie Tang and Huang have one win and two unfinished matches—both of which were called off with the pair serving for the set with a 5-4 lead.

Cornell, which suffered deflating losses to Penn and Princeton, bounced back with wins over Harvard, Yale, and Brown and comes into Saturday’s contest with renewed energy after capturing three straight victories.

The Big Red, which has similarly navigated injuries, boosts a strong singles lineup with David Volfson at first singles. Volfson lost to Pham in the fall at the ITA Northeast Regional Championships, but will certainly benefit from playing at home.

At second singles, Alafia Ayeni has shined after not playing in the fall, and could be a challenging task for Tang as well. Finally, at third singles for the Big Red is Lev Kazakov, who cruised past Harvard’s Jean Thirouin 6-2, 6-3 and will bring a three-match winning streak into a likely matchup against first-year Jack Lin.

Lin, who bounced back from a difficult weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth with two impressive performances against Brown and Yale, will look to end his first Ivy League season in Morningside Heights on a high note alongside the rest of his teammates.

The battle will likely come down to whether Columbia can play up to the potential which it has exhibited throughout the season.

If the Lions can do so, according to Goswami, everything should take care of itself.

First serve from Ithaca is scheduled for 1 p.m.

christopher.lopez@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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