On a cloudy day at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a team of players in light blue uniforms faced off against a team in dark blue across six courts. This was the moment a college tennis team would make history and also say goodbye.
St. Francis of Brooklyn’s men’s tennis team was playing in the N.C.A.A. tournament for the first time. Unfortunately, the team was not able to make it past the first round and had fallen to Columbia 4-0. As a result, the program will be no more. Due to budgetary reasons, St. Francis is dropping all of its sports at the end of the school year.
Chad Davis, who played at St. Francis and has been the men’s tennis coach for 19 years, said, “Being an alum of the college, being there for so long and seeing the program grow year after year and battle after battle, it’s definitely a bitter pill to swallow.”
Making it to the tournament was unexpected after St. Francis got off to a 1-10 start this season, including a loss in its first conference game. Davis said, “It was definitely difficult in the beginning; we weren’t clicking.”
In March, the college announced the shutdown of all athletic programs. St. Francis cited “increased operating expenses, flattening revenue streams, and plateauing enrollment.”
Despite the bad news, the men’s tennis team won seven of its last eight games, including all of its remaining conference games. However, to qualify for the N.C.A.A. tournament, it needed to win the Northeast Conference tournament. In the final, it met Fairleigh Dickinson, which had eliminated it in the previous two years.
Luis Foix Sotos, a player from Jávea, Spain, was the one who won the clinching match in a 4-2 victory. He said, “It was the best feeling ever. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. For me, it was epic; it was like a movie that ended in the best way possible.”
In the N.C.A.A. tournament against Columbia, St. Francis was a big underdog. Columbia, with a 19-3 record and the highest ranking in its history at No. 13 nationally, won the opening doubles matches without dropping a set. The singles matches were no different. After Columbia won its clinching third singles match, the others were halted, and St. Francis’s final season was done.
St. Francis was one of the smallest schools with Division I athletics. The city skyline backdrop to its soccer games in Brooklyn Bridge Park regularly made visiting players clamor for selfies. Its men’s basketball team was one of just four original members of Division I never to make the N.C.A.A. tournament. However, the men’s water polo team made multiple Final Four trips, most recently in 2013.
St. Francis has said it will honor the athletic scholarships of the players with eligibility remaining. Foix Sotos, whose own eligibility is exhausted, said, “Some of the older players are planning to stay in New York. They have a life here, and they don’t want to transfer for only one year. But for the freshmen and the sophomores, they all want to transfer; they are looking for schools.”
When the match was over, the team gathered in a circle by one of the nets, arms linked, and shared a private moment. Foix Sotos said, “We were just saying thank you. My last college match. Today was like a reward for me.”