Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tournament time!

Middlebury men’s tennis opened its bid for the 2015 NCAA title by hosting the first two rounds of the tournament here in Middlebury on Saturday and Sunday. The week of practice leading up to the tournament was focused, and on Friday we held a team meeting where we shared our appreciation for the program we all help to build and constantly refine; hearing everyone’s words was special in reinforcing that we are all contributing to create something we cherish.

Big M's all around

Despite the uplifting meeting, we suffered a setback when Ari badly sprained his ankle during the practice following the meeting. When Sue, the trainer, arrived on site with a golf cart to wheel Ari away, things did not look good for our number one singles player. Sue, after examining the ankle, said there was no way Ari would be playing on Sunday, the day we would most likely find ourselves up against Bowdoin for the chance to move on to the final site. However, there was one thing Sue the trainer didn’t take into consideration: THIS IS ARI SMOLYAR WE’RE TALKING ABOUT. Ari isn’t a human being- Ari comes from a planet deep in outer space where injuries simply don’t exist. As Ari would say, "I JUST DON'T GET INJURED!"

Midd handled a Nichols team that had a dream season in winning their conference for the first time and beating Ramapo in the first round. However, we proved too tough for the unranked squad.

This win set up the clash with Bowdoin we’ve been preparing for since the NCAA bracket was published a week ago. A large part of our training is making sure we’re fully prepared to mentally confront the challenges ahead of us. We spent significant time meeting before practice to visualize playing our style of confident tennis against Bowdoin.
Jack finding the heavy spot 

We began the match with wins at #1 and #2 doubles. Peter and Palmer stayed even with their opponents before pulling away late. This is something we’ve talked about- the best doubles teams in the world play a close set and then consistently raise their level when the time is right. Palmer's volley game has hit new levels and Peter's competitive mindset are only two of many highlights this duo brings to the court.

Ari and Noah also played a tightly contested match until Noah shifted into high gear, making some very impressive moves at the net to push their match in favor of the Panthers. Chris and Will competed hard but were outplayed this time by a tough 3rd team from Bowdoin. Not to spoil the suspense, but Will would have his revenge later in the match.

Singles got underway with Jackson and Kyle facing opponents who were playing their “A” games and had their backs up against the wall from the start. Kyle has performed wonderfully since making his debut in the singles and, as his game continues to grow, we’re confident he can win a match like that. 3-2 in favor of Bowdoin!

Home sweet home
Ari came up with a fantastic performance in beating Bowdoin’s top player in straight sets to even the match at 3-3. What an incredible effort on an ankle that was black, blue, and twisted up by the finish. This performance by Ari will surely go down in Panther folk-lore to be passed down for years to come.

Will, Noah, and Palmer each traded blows with their opponents before Noah beat Bowdoin’s #2 player, Noah Bragg, for the 3rd time this season. This matchup has become a personal favorite of mine to watch as each player specializes in speed and shot making ability which makes for one continuous highlight reel and, fortunately for Midd, Noah F just does it a bit better. Midd up 4-3.

Not long after Noah’s win, Will sealed the match with one of the most dominating service holds I’ve seen. He hit two forehand winners, which were set up by well-placed first serves. An unreturned serve set up match point, and Will ended the match with an overhead smash over the fence which Bob casually caught while watching from the top bank of courts. Game, set, match, Midd.

Will elevating when it matters
What was even more impressive than Will’s final service game, was his enthusiastic lunge stanced 3 pull lawnmower fist pump to celebrate. Will has committed himself to visualizing closing out pressure matches efficiently, and it’s no doubt his off-court efforts helped him here.

We are now in our final week of practice before our quarterfinal match against Trinity of Texas on Monday. This morning we logged our final morning conditioning session of the season; we ended the season long bi weekly workouts in true Panther fashion by attacking a challenging workout.

Stay tuned and follow us through each of our matches in Ohio as we aim for the ultimate pot of gold. Our group is growing more determined every day and, as coaches, it’s a joy to see our group peaking at just the right time.

*Year of the Big M*

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

NESCAC Roundup

Sports fans poured in to Middlebury last weekend, booking up all hotels from Burlington to Rutland for what was being called a NESCAC tournament for the ages. Bookies in town placed pre-tournament odds heavy in Amherst’s corner after their domination of the regular season, and their 9-0 drubbing of us the weekend before. Pre-tournament drama escalated as our conference was so deep this season that the tournament committee was forced to split hairs in deciding to take 19th ranked Trinity or 21st ranked Bates. After 3 days of debate, official protests, and conference calls, the nod was given to Trinity and the field was finally set.

Before we go any further, it must be noted what an important role the Middlebury parents had in making the weekend feel incredibly special. For each match, they filled two tables with fruit, finger foods, and drinks. And following both match victories, they fed the team with catered pasta from Castello’s and Noonies sandwiches. Absolutely amazing! Thank you, Middlebury parents, for all you do for us, this journey wouldn’t be the same without you.

Saturday had us first match on against Bowdoin, a team who we beat several weeks prior, but who didn’t show us their best stuff. This time, however, they were locked in and had things looking close after we went up 2-1 in doubles but were beaten in 4 first sets in the singles. Hats off to Ari, Noah, and Palmer for fighting hard to keep our NESCAC title hopes alive.

Later that day, Williams played an unbelievable match to take down Amherst and set up an unpredicted Midd-Williams final for Sunday. This match really shows how it’s not about who is better on paper, but rather who shows up to play.

Sunday’s final against Williams was a good old fashioned cowboy vs indian western battle. We ran out to a 3-0 lead, and Jackson won at 4 to put us up to 4-0. But Williams brought in the welcoming committee and took matches at 5 and 2 and each of the remaining matches were closer than a gun slinging dual during the gold rush. Kyle, who was making his debut at 6 singles, competed and adjusted his game to meet the demands of the situation. He found himself up a set and serving 6-5 when Palmer sealed the deal for us. In front of a crowd that was on the edge of their seats, Palmer served for the match, and on the final point the crowd of mostly Midd girls, watched so closely and intensely you could hear a plate drop at Ross dining hall. Palmer snapped a passing shot and threw his arms up in joy as the crowd went wild and his teammates flooded the court.

Next up is the first and second rounds of NCAA’s hosted here at Middlebury.

We are where we are because of everyone’s efforts on this team, not only because of the play of our starters. Every player brings great meaning to this program and serves as the fabric for the wonderful Middlebury tennis culture. Very important kudos go out to Charlie, Courtney, Hamid, and Jack. Without their enthusiasm we would no doubt be a different team.

Please follow us through the NCAA tournament.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Amherst Match and NESCAC Thoughts

Saturday’s NESCAC regular season finale between #4 ranked Amherst and #6 ranked Midd was all over D3 news as being the first battle in a war for the national title between the two conference powerhouses.

Trivia: what shot is Chris hitting?
After the smoke cleared, Amherst came away with the match, rocking us 9-0. As we have reflected back on this loss we have all agreed there wasn’t the same buzz and concentration amongst us as for the Emory match. When we arrived at the courts on the morning we played Emory, we all felt electricity in the air, and we responded wonderfully to that tension. However, upon arriving to Amherst College, all of us have agreed that we lacked the same sense of urgency. It’s important we’ve all acknowledged this subtle feeling, and we’ll use it to guide us into the final stages of the season.

We played Amherst close in many of the singles spots; Ari lost in a breaker for the 3rd that could have gone either way, Noah took a set off a talented player in a match that featured an age old matchup between the net rushing Solimano and the baseline shot-maker Noah. Even though Noah lost in the breaker for the 3rd, he proved he can play with the very best 2 players in the country.

Timo time
Timo’s backcourt ball striking propelled him to a 7-6, 5-2 lead before the match slowed down and his Amherst opponent grinded back for the win. Undoubtedly, this was a difficult loss for Timo, but if anyone told us Timo would find himself up a set and 5-2 against the defending national champions’ 6 player, we would be thrilled to be in such a position. With more experience, Timo will win this type of match in the future.  

Allen elevating
The purchasing of two HD pole mounted cameras has given us further insight into our doubles, as we have full clips of both 1 and 2 doubles. We plan to integrate the use of film examination into our ever-improving program going forward.

There is a noticed change in the winds surrounding Midd men’s tennis since we’ve returned from Saturday’s match. There is a noticed change to the intensity with which we’ve been approaching our work.

Mr. Smooth
With the regular season over, and the NESCAC tournament this weekend, our guys know it’s time for business to become even more focused, and our practice yesterday sent a clear message that we aren’t happy with the Amherst result. There was purpose in every ball we struck, impressive concentration, and furious force in our legs to position ourselves correctly for every shot.

Charlie- behind the scenes work.
Our physical conditioning has been slowly transforming us all season. The physical ability of our guys at this morning’s workout finally confirmed what has been in the works for a long time: we have officially traded in our PT Cruiser bodies for a fleet of roaring ’67 Ford Mustang muscle cars and Kawasaki street motorcycles. The NESCAC won’t know what to think when we roll up the garage door on Saturday with engines firing.

NESCAC Tournament Seedings:

11.     Amherst
22.     Middlebury
33.     Bowdoin
44.     Tufts
55.     Williams
66.     Trinity



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Maine Roadtrip

This past weekend's road trip had the men's and women's teams joining forces in traveling to Maine as guests to 8th ranked Bowdoin and 20th ranked Bates. The panthers came to their first obstacle before reaching the court when our coach bus belched a cloud of black smoke and lost power. Luckily, Roger, our driver, coasted into a Rutland liquor store parking lot and everyone but Jackson, who was deep in sleep, deboarded to await the replacement bus.
Strategy is everything 

Like the champions we are, we rolled with the punches and finally arrived in Brunswick to face off against a very talented, but young, Bowdoin team. We started the match outdoors under a cloudless sky, however, extreme rain was predicted for later in the afternoon.

Our doubles was impressive to say the least; Ari and Noah put on yet another radical performance, winning 8-1 to chalk up our first point. Next off was Chris and Will who played perhaps their most complete match of the season in terms of consistency and returning quality. As the sky filled with rain clouds we looked to complete the sweep at 1 doubles where Peter and Palmer were gridlocked in a back and forth battle. But our panther nerve proved stronger as Bowdoin double faulted on match point to give us the doubles sweep, aka: the kiss of death.
Year of the BIG M

Bowdoin and Midd coaches decided to move the match indoors before the rains came, and it wasn’t long before we stomped out any hope for a Bowdoin comeback as Palmer and Ari both won convincingly to seal the match. We received post-clinch victories from Courtney, Will, and Noah. Hats off to Noah for handling a talented opponent who was playing at a high level.
To those who missed the memo: WDQ has arrived

Also on a high level has been Charlie’s management of the @middtennis Twitter feed, receiving input from Kyle, Timo, and Allen. Tune in for live match updates and ground level insight on everything MiddTennis.   

Sunday's match against Bates saw clear skies and a fiercely contested doubles point that Midd came out of leading 2-1. Peter and Palmer bested the region's top ranked doubles team who has also pioneered the use of the head fake while playing as the server's partner; Peter and Palmer never took the bait.

Midd again offered up a singles performance that, as coaches, we are extremely proud of. Up and down the lineup we competed like champions and are proving very tough to beat when it matters late in the set.

BIG M = big business
One notable singles matchup was at the top spot where Ari faced off against Pierre Planche, who was the only player to beat Ari during fall competition. Ari has been eager for a rematch and Sunday was his day. After a premature cheer by a young female in the crowd set off an early dispute, it became clear both players were ready to play hardball. But Ari did what he does best, making the match incredibly physical, turning it into an old-fashioned Mexican knife fight in the desert. Victory- Smolyar. 

The Panthers went on to take 5 out of 6 singles matches to finish the day with a 7-2 victory against one of the few remaining undefeated teams in the NESCAC.
Palmer taking a forehand side door

We’re beginning to show our best tennis late in the season and we have already been recognized by the DIII blog as one of the hotter teams in the country as we head into post-season play. Both coaches are thrilled with our progress thus far and know we can still reach new levels as we’re improving each time we take the court. We are grateful to be running with such an inspiring group who has the courage to attack this project head on!

Saturday we visit Amherst for our last regular season match and a NESCAC powerhouse showdown. Thanks for your continued support!