Thursday, February 4, 2016

Panther Season of 2016 has Begun...

Panther Sophomores holding the Hardware

The 2015/2016 season got off to a great start on the heals of our run last season to the finals of the NCAA Team Championship.  Many thought we overachieved but the heart of this team and the evolving skill set makes for great optimism going into this season.  Individual event details from the fall can be found on the Middlebury Athletics web site, I would like to share some of the highlights.

Senior Ari Smolyar, who ended last year as the top ranked player in our region, started a bit rough coming off an intense internship.  As the top seed at the Midd invite he lost in the semi’s to a player he had beaten badly the year before.  At the ITA Ari looked a bit sharper advancing to the quarters before losing to eventual finalist Luke Tercek of Bowdoin.  Ari played an invitational at Dartmouth and his game was back in high gear as he battled three Div 1 opponents beating one in straight sets, losing to one in three sets and one in two close sets.  Ari wrapped up the fall going 3-0 in singles at the Tufts Invitational.   Besides his role as a captain on this year’s team, Ari will play leading roles in singles and doubles.

Senior captain Palmer Campbell comes off his run to the semi finals of last year’s NCAA doubles tournament with a strong summer of training and taking his game to new levels.  He reached the semi finals of the Midd invite A flight losing to team mate Noah Farrell, lost to finalist Luke Tercek at the ITA Regional, and again in a much closer match at the Bates Invitational. He then went 3-0 at the Tufts Invitation in singles and doubles.  His drive and passion for excellence will be key drivers on this year’s team.

Senior captain Allen Jackson lost in the first round of the Midd A flight in three sets to Skimore’s top player, won two strong rounds at the ITA Regional, beating two quality players, before losing in three sets to Wesleyan’s top player.  Allen reached the quarter finals at the Bates Invite and went 3-0 in singles at the Tufts invite.  Due to a serious injury Allen will be taking Spring semester off to have surgery.  Although he will be greatly missed this year by everyone in the program, Allen’s drive, leadership and passion will be key factors to steering next year’s team as he plans to come back and play his final season. I continue to be amazingly impressed with how Allen Jackson handles adversity. 

Senior captain Jack Welch continues to bring a strong steadying influence to the program with his team first attitude and calm demeanor.  In our invitational Jack reached the semi finals of his flight before losing to the eventual champion.  Jack also reached the semi finals at Bates and went undefeated at the Tufts Invitational.

Our lone junior Hamid Derbani was coming off a year where he did not play due to a wrist injury.  He was unable to play until the final event of this fall where he debuted his big burly, but rusty, game.  It was not pretty at first but all of us saw his huge potential which now is unveiled on a regular basis.  Not knowing exactly where Hamid has the potential to be a major contributor in both singles and doubles.

Our sophomore class continues to shine.  No one quite expected them to be so good but the cat is now out of the bag and they continue to impress.  Timo Van de Geest is one of our hardest workers and most improved players.  Timo lost in the quarters at the Midd Invite, won his first two rounds at the ITA event before falling in three sets to one of Tufts top players. He lost early at Bates and then went 2-1 at Tufts.  With more match experience Timo will prove to be a force going forward. 

Will De Quant produced far more than expected last year with his massive improvement.  The good news is he is continuing to improve and had fall results to show, winning his flight at the Midd invite with two straight set wins and two clutch third set breakers.  At the ITA event Will beat the second seed, Carl Reid of Colby, in three sets before losing a close in the second round.  At Bates Will played the A flight and beat a top Tufts player in the first round and lost in three sets to the eventual tournament champion from Bowdoin.  At the Tufts invitational Will went 3-0 in both singles and doubles.

Kyle Schlanger entered the year bigger, stronger and healthier, than last year and it shows!  Training consistently Kyle is better in all phases of the game.  He reached the quarters at the Midd Invite, the finals of the Bates Invite, dropping the final in three close sets to an opponent who beat him handily last year, and finished the fall with a 2-1 record at the Tufts Invitational.   Look for him to be a solid contributor this season pushing for a spot in both singles and doubles.

Charlie Oberrender keeps all the rest of the sophomore class in check helping lead on and off the court.  At the Midd Invite he and Cole Sutton reached the semi finals in doubles. 

Peter Martin
Cole Sutton and Charlie Oberrender

I am happy with our contribution from our freshmen class as Peter Martin and Cole Sutton are now firmly planted in the heart of the team and getting better rapidly.  Our other freshmen, Alejandro Perez, has been unable to play due to recovering from shoulder surgery.   Peter opened the fall with a win in his flight at the Midd invite before falling to the eventual champion in the second round.  Peter had a similar result at Bates winning his first round and then losing a close match to the eventual flight winner in a close match.  Peter concluded the fall going 2-1 in singles at the Tufts Invitational.  Cole lost his first match at our invite but bounced back at Bates losing to the eventual flight champion in the semi finals.  At Tufts Cole went 3-0 in singles. 

Soph Noah Farrell had a blistering fall playing in five events without dropping a set in Div lll competition!  He won the A flight at the Middlebury Invitational, won the tough ITA Regional, beat Amherst’s top player at the Dartmouth Invitational, won the ITA National Small College National Singles Championship, and then went undefeated at Tufts.  Noah was Middlebury’s first men’s player to win the ITA National Small College Singles National Championship and the first since 2009 to win the ITA Regional singles title.  Currently ranked number one in the country in Div lll Noah adds tremendous strength at the top of our singles and doubles lineup along with a very mature perspective on the team and his role.

Overall we had a wonderful fall adjusting to the loss of our seniors, incorporating our freshmen, and building momentum for the spring.  Many thanks to Courtney Mountifield who stepped up in his role as assistant coach following on the heels of his multitude of contributions as a player.  He provides stability, continuity, and great insight having been a player for all of my first four years at Middlebury.  It is not always easy to coach teammates and Courtney has done a remarkable job on all levels. 

We are all super excited to have Courtney back for the spring but also to have Bryce Parmelly join the Panther program after his many years of service at UC Santa Cruz.  You can get more detail about his background from our website, he was deeply connected with many championship drives as a player and coach and will be a tremendous asset to the this program and athletic department.  We are very fortunate to have him and I am thrilled with his potential impact.

We will be adding a season preview soon but for now thanks to all of you for your ongoing support of Middlebury Panther Tennis.  I could not be more happy or excited about this season and the wonderful group of players, families and fans I have to work with.

Very best wishes, Coach Hansen

Thursday, May 28, 2015

NCAA Tournament Wrap-up

Captains plus Will
The 2015 season is officially in the history books. This season was special to everyone on multiple levels, and even though we were disappointed by the loss in the NCAA Team Championship match, no Panther kept his tail between his legs for long because there were so many high points during our journey to this match.

Since I'm sure most have been following our results in Cincinnati closely, I'll highlight some lesser-known points of the championships. I'll start this post in the way that I end most posts, by dishing out kudos, as they are well deserved.

What an effort by our guys! They put so much passion into the tournament both with their preparation and their play. To put that much mentally and emotionally into accomplishing a goal shows amazing fortitude and thus the first, and most important, kudos go out to every member of the team for their passion and commitment.

Banger Bros! 
A large recognition goes out to all the guys who didn't see the court while in Cincinnati but were with us every step of the way pushing everyone to the peak of their abilities. Weather it was tweeting about our results, offering valuable input during team meetings, or being at every practice with a racket in hand ready to jump in, everyone played a big part in this year's success.

The parents who made the trip and those that supported us along the way are greatly appreciated and all your help, including the fantastic dinner Wednesday night, contributed greatly to our success and enjoyment.

Now for some match specific acknowledgements:

We mounted a very impressive doubles sweep in the quarterfinals, on indoor courts, against, dare I say it, the National Indoor Tournament Champions. Yes folks, they were crowned the top indoor team in the country this year and we came out and put a 3-0 sweep on them in the doubles. After doubles, Jackson and Will would seal the match 5-0 for us. Speaking of Jackson Frons, what on earth did he eat for breakfast before both this match and the semifinal match against Chicago? I kid you not, Jackson came out in both matches swinging at forehands and moving like Marat Safin. And we all know he's got the looks to match!
Bring in the Secret Weapon

Additionally, Will logged two impressive wins at the 5 spot against Trinity and Chicago. Will's game really blossomed this spring and these two victories are a testament to his efforts.

In the final match against Claremont, we came in ready for the moment and well prepared. We weren't overwhelmed at the opportunity before us or suffering from a lack of belief. We came out to play hard but simply ran into a team that was too good for us on that day. Hats off to Claremont for wielding an impressive team and a strong effort.

We're extremely proud of our guys for their openness to take on the challenge of aiming to win it all, but at the same time, staying grounded on the special season we had despite coming up just short.
Before leaving Midd for the tournament, guys offered up these season highlights:

-Regaining the NESCAC crown.
-Edging Emory in what many would call the DIII match of the year.
-Coming away with “The Thriller in Redlands” match.
-Ari winning three of four fall events and being the top ranked player in our region.
-Noah being named the NESCAC Rookie of the Year
-Defeating Bowdoin a third time to claim the NCAA Regional Title

Power doubles players
Also, congratulations to Peter and Palmer for reaching the semifinals of the individual doubles draw. They notched an impressive win in the first round against a talented Mary Washington team, and an even more impressive win against the top duo from Wash U on stadium court. Particularly in their second round win, Peter and Palmer played at a level previously unseen by Bob and myself. Palmer, again and again, made plays on the ball that resembled LeBron James driving to the hoop. On several occasions through out the match, Bob and I looked at each other thinking 'where did Palmer learn to ball like that!?'

Before I sign off for the summer, please enjoy the following pictures showing the adventures of Midd Tennis!


Your 2015 NCAA Doubles Semi-finalists

Taking names

Yes Mr. President, the Panthers are in the finals.

Año de la M grande
All women's matches were suspended during the taking of this photo
Battle meeting

The mothers of M Tennis, thank you!

Road to glory

Semi-final vs. Chicago

Passion and grit

Mike Tyson

Big M's = Big friends

The Midd Tennis entourage 

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*