On April 10th the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) released new national rankings (click here for full rankings). Since the previous rankings release the men of Middlebury have risen two spots and find themselves ranked #8 in the country. While this is a respectable ranking, the ever ambitious Panthers are far from satisfied and the following day, April 11th, set out on a challenging 3 day road trip to face off against #5 Williams, #29 Wesleyan, and #27 Trinity in three NESCAC matchups.
After a quick two-hour drive down to Williamstown, Massachusetts the Panthers took the courts and prepared for battle. Despite the forecast only calling for a 20% chance of rain and Coach Hansen not getting the ‘achy joints’ that typically precede a storm, it started to pour 10 minutes before match time. Though we held out hope that the clouds would pass the Williams coaching staff made the quick decision to move the match indoors. While it was in no way an act of gamesmanship (it continued to rain for quite some time so indoors was our only option) the decision to move the match indoors certainly favored the Ephs.
Though we’ve spent a great deal of time practicing indoors
this year, the William’s indoor court are not true tennis courts and are
instead a plastic surface that is rolled out in the hockey arena. However, when
you’re hot you’re hot and the Midd doubles teams were hot.
At #1 doubles the
standout duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz continued there winning
ways with an 8-5 win over a tough Eph team. At #2 doubles the undefeated (in
Division III play) team of Brantner
Jones and Palmer Campbell got
broken early and found themselves down 0-3. However, the ever-optimistic Coach McConnell was unconcerned. During
a changeover he calmly sauntered over to the third court where Coach Sabel was monitoring #3 doubles
and whispered with a toothy grin, “Worst three games ever. Don’t worry though,
And win they did, taking 8 of the next 11 games for an 8-6 win. At
#3 doubles the Panther’s were grasping to life with their infamous retractable
claws. They faced at least 10 break points throughout the match and were having
a great deal of difficulty getting into the Ephs service games. Unable to break
and unwilling to be broken the match went to a tiebreak where Williams went up
a mini-break 5-4 with the huge serving Rohan Shastri holding the match on his
racquet. Somehow Ari Smolyar caught
up to a rocket Shastri first serve for an unbelievable, and match saving,
inside out forehand return winner. After trading points on serve Smolyar came through again putting a
return down at 7-6 that partner Peter
Heidrich closed brilliantly on and knocked off a returner’s partner poach
for a 9-8(6) victory and a 3-0 doubles sweep.
|Bobby ready to doll out some sage advice literally moments before the it started to pour.|
|The indoor complex right before doubles play.|
|Coach Charles 'The Prophet' McConnell|
|The Bone-saw continues to improve after some early season health issues.|
|A demonstration of the various shots in the game of tennis.|
|Chris Frost looking about as photogenic as humanly possible.|
|Team meeting after doubles.|
After two days of challenging tennis it’s always interesting to see how the boys will fare when they’re a little tired and a little banged up. We also knew we were going to have to bring our ‘A’ game because the Trinity team we were set to face off against is very talented. However, as any knowledgeable zookeeper will tell you, the only thing scarier than a panther is a hungry, tired, and beat up panther. At #4 doubles James Burke and Chris Frost got the ball rolling with a nice 8-5 win.
Next off was #1 doubles where Johno and Lebo won 8-5.
#3 doubles managed to break at just the right time to even the match at 6-6 but
was unable to keep it on the tracks as they fell 8-6 to make the match score
1-1. At #2 doubles Palmer and Brantner found themselves in an
unfamiliar position down a break 6-7. Coach
McConnell, who optimism could be mistaken for naivety, once again was
confident a victory was coming. Even down match point 7-6, 40-30 Coach McConnell went as far as to guarantee
a victory. And in some sort of prophetic way, a victory came. After some
unbelievable tennis by Brantner,
Midd broke back before both teams held for a tiebreak. In the breaker ‘B-Jones’
and ‘P-Dog’ came alive dominating for a 9-8(2) win. In singles we turned in our
most complete singles performance to date only dropping a single set and
winning all 6 matches for an 8-1 victory.
|Coach Charles soothes nerves with a special touch.|
|Courtney dialed it in as the week went on and posted a dominating 6-4, 6-1 on Saturday and 6-2, 6-1 on Sunday.|
All in all the coaches where thrilled with our performance this weekend. More than just winning all three of our matches, we’re even more happy with the continued growth of individual player’s games and the growth of our team’s collective belief. If we continue to put together quality practices and matches as we’ve been doing in the past few months there’s no limit to how far this team can go. And once again we could not be more thankful for all the support from the parents. This week we saw the Lebovitzs, the Smolyars, the Burkes, the Mountifields, and the Frosts. It seems like no matter where we go we have a fan club of at least 10 parents, which is just awesome.
|Brantner went 6-0 on the weekend and also earned divsion3tennis.com Northeast player of the week honors.|
This Saturday we look forward to playing two challenging matches. In the morning we’ll face off against Bowdoin and in the afternoon we play RPI. In addition to the tennis we will also honor our seniors this Saturday with a wonderful reception after the matches. If you’re interested in attending and haven’t spoken to Bob please shoot him an e-mail as soon as you can.
-Coaches Hansen, Sabel, and McConnell