Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It's the Journey Not the Destination

When a group of brilliant individuals come together and set a goal so ambitious that few others would even have the courage to attempt to achieve it, then come so close, but ultimately fail, one would think that heartbreak would be the end result. And they would be right. 
Getting ready to battle the Stags.
But to stop there would belittle what was truly a remarkable season for the Middlebury Panthers. A season in which the boys notched 21 wins, including a win over eventual national champion Amherst, won the regular season NESCAC conference title, won an ITA Doubles National Title, had 4 NCAA/ITA All-Americans, and most of all a season where it all seemed to click. For the three years he has been head coach of the Panthers Coach Hansen has preached core principles. Among them there are the ideas of unity, unselfishness, heart, and gratefulness. 
14 Strong! One last time.
Lebo was always taught to volley by leading with the bottom edge.
Typical Lebo to take advice too literally.
Jokes on me though as these two earned All-American honors just a few days later.
To truly embody these ideals takes time and the teams of the past two years did a brilliant job laying a foundation for success, but this year’s team took it to new levels. We said we would go on this journey together, 14 Strong, and we did. We said this wouldn't be about any one individual’s goals or desires but about the teams, and it was. We said we would play every match with unequaled passion and desire, and we did. And finally, we said we would enjoy every moment together whether it be as painful as the moment the last ball went off the court in the our semi-final loss to CMS or whether it be as joyous as the moment when Brantner stuck a forehand volley up the line to beat Amherst, and I really truly believe we did.
B-Jones post Amherst clinch!
I apologize for the tardiness of this post but nonetheless here we go. Following our brilliant win over Case Western we faced off against the host team Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS)
on the morning of Tuesday the 20th. CMS's graduation had been just a few days before the match and plenty of fans had stuck around to watch their home team. I'd estimate at least 250-300 people were there cheering for the Stags and 300 exuberant college kids can create quite the raucous as well as a substantial home court advantage. 
Frons getting a pre-match good luck smooch.
I'm Ron Burgundy?
Perhaps it was the fans or perhaps it was the moment but in doubles we came out a bit flat. At #1 and #3 doubles we were down an early break and only #2 doubles was staying firmly in the match. Eventually the dynamic duos of Alex Johnston/Andrew Lebovitz and Ari Smolyar/Peter Heidrich found their ways but getting back into pro sets against extremely talented teams can be a difficult task. The #1 team was first off with an 8-5 loss as they were unable to ever recover the break. Shortly after the Johno and Lebo lost good old reliable Brantner and Palmer escaped with a 9-7 victory on a timely break to tie the match at 1-1. The doubles point would come down to #3 where the Panthers were still recovering from their 0-3 start. Ari and Pete broke to bring the match to 7-7 but were quickly broken back and CMS held for a 9-7 win.

Post doubles huddle.
Ready to bring the hammer in singles!
Heading into singles we knew we were going to have to play some top notch tennis, but fortunately this was not our first crack at being down after doubles as defending NCAA Champions Williams College had put us on the ropes just a week prior. And we came out like we'd been there before. At #1 Johno took the first 6-3, at #2 Brantner won 6-2, at #3 Palmer lost the first 3-6 but was battling with heart and determination, at #4 Ari grabbed the first 6-1, at #5 Courtney was up 7-5, and at #6 Jackson lost the first 5-7 but was looking solid. Johno quickly finished off #1 ranked Warren Wood 6-3, 6-4 to even the overall score at 2-2 and the match turned into a dog fight.
Johno wills a volley over with his mind.
At #2 singles a CMS Division 1 transfer battled back and took the second 7-6, at #3 Palmer played an unbelievable set and won 6-1 to even the match at a set a piece, at #4 Ari lost the second 7-5 to push into the third, at #5 Courtney lost the second 6-3 to push that match to a third, and at #6 Fro won 4-6 to push that match to a third. So with the scored tied at 2 matches a piece 5 third sets would decide who was headed to the championship match. And after several hours of a match that looked like it was almost certainly going to go CMS's way Midd had an opening. 
Smolyar attempts the often imitated, never duplicated, (rarely successful) tomahawk
However, as quickly as the path to victory opened up, it closed. At #3 singles a talented Stag played a determined 3rd set and won 6-2 to give CMS a 3-2 lead. At #4 singles Ari had two match points but couldn't convert and less than 5 minutes later found himself on the losing end of the 5-7 score to give the Stags a 4-2 lead and all of the sudden Midd would need all 3 matches to push this one across. But all hope was not lost. At #2 singles Brantner was on serve 3-4 and anyone who saw Brantner play this year (certainly this coach) would've bet their house that he was going to pull that one out. At #5 Courtney was up 3-0 in the third and #6 was headed to a breaker to decide the match. Unfortunately for Midd we lost the breaker and the match for a heartbreaking 5-2 loss that very well could've gone the other way.
Frons battled well all week.
Johno's dad all the way from Leeds, England.
The following day, despite another effort worthy of every Panther's applause, Midd lost another heartbreaker as it came down to the 3rd set at #4 singles and Ari had simply given too much against CMS and cramped as bad as a player can cramp. The match was difficult to watch as Ari has trained harder than almost anyone on the Midd team this year and wanted nothing more to push the final match across the line. Unfortunately his body simply wouldn't let him as even serving become an impossibility. The fact that he chose to finish the match and not retire as 99.9% of people would've done in that circumstance speaks volumes about not just Ari, but about the heart of the Panther program.
Smoly struggling to bend his leg in a scene that Lebo (bottom right) couldn't even watch.
I think I speak for all the coaches when I say we couldn't have been more proud of our boys this year and particularly our effort in the NCAA tournament. The season did not end the way we would've liked but nothing in life is guaranteed and there is no doubt we laid it all out on the line and gave our best effort. And while many on the team will get another crack at a national championship next year, for the seniors this was their last go. And for how far they pushed this team not only in terms of on court tennis talent but also in terms of leadership, maturity, passion, and simply being great people we will be forever proud and thankful. 
Bob's note: We would also like to thank the Panther parents, clearly the best tennis parents ever who traveled everywhere with us, our brilliant alumni, and our many other supporters as throughout the year we've received tremendous ongoing support. Thanks also to Jerry Lynch for his ongoing help and creativity in creating the magic that is Panther Tennis. Finally special thanks to Max for his brilliant work on this blog and to Max and Charles for your unending enthusiasm and leadership towards this year’s team.
The last win for a magical (and All-American) doubles duo.
4th place out of 300+ Division III teams ain't bad.
But Johno has higher standards...
Your 2014 Middlebury Panthers!

Thanks again so much for this year and look forward to Midd Tennis 2014-2015!

P.S. Speaking of 14-15 we will be shortly coming out with and preview of next year’s recruiting class….

-Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Final Four! (video fix)

I've just realized the video will not work in the e-mail you receive so please visit the blog at http://middtennisnation.blogspot.com/ to view the video. It's really quite good so I highly recommend it.

Final Four!

The Midd mens tennis team marched one step closer to the 2014 NCAA National Championship with a convincing 5-1 quarterfinal victory over a talented Case Western Reserve University team. Before I give you my commentary please enjoy this brilliant video produced by Alex Johnston and Teddy Fitzgibbons (is there anything this guy can't do?)

The final leg of what has been a journey that started many years ago for some began on Friday when the team boarded plane for Claremont, California. We landed in the early afternoon and sped off towards Whittier College to hit a few tennis balls in the California sun. Playing out here is a bit different from playing in Vermont. The heat, of course is a factor, but the air is also thinner so the ball tends to sail on you and the courts, particularly the tournament courts in Claremont, tend to play a bit slower. Nonetheless we adjusted nicely and had an impressive and confidence building day one.
The beautiful courts at Whittier College, site of day one's hit.
Johno, Frons, and Courtney soak in some rays with Whittier head coach Ben Belletto.
Kids and their phones these days.
On Saturday we had a noon hit on the courts at Pomona College as you're only allowed to play on the tournament courts one day before the tournament. Our boys looked sharper than they had the day before and the coaching staff was feeling confident that the pieces were beginning to come together. Later in the evening we had a lovely dinner thanks to the omnipresent Frons family.

On Sunday we had a 9 A.M. hit on the Claremont courts where would be playing our match in exactly 24 hours. These courts, more so than pretty much any hard courts you'll ever play on, are slow and gritty. When the ball bounces it almost holds on the surface and that explodes off with whatever spin you put on the ball being slightly exacerbated. Though again, as the Panthers have done all season whether the tennis has been indoors on sports courts or outdoors in the misting rain, we adjusted just fine and looked like a team ready to play for a title.

Visualization after our hit on Sunday.
On Monday it was a game time. We knew the Case Western team we were about to play was fiery and thrived on energy so a quick start was key, and we certainly got that. The #3 doubles tandem of Ari Smolyar and Peter Heidrich started out with a beautiful break where they cracked 5 quality returns and won 4 of the points. Branter Jones and Palmer Campbell were quick to follow and after a marathon game they broke to go up 2-1. 
With B-Jones firm handshake and Palmer's giddy excitement these two present quite the dichotomy to opposing coaches.
Bobby thinking, "Schools about to be in session."
Back at #3 the route was on before the Spartans even know what had hit them. After a gritty hold by Pete Heidrich to take the match to 2-0, the Panthers broke again and when the #1 and #2 matches were still in their infancy Pete and Ari were up 7-1. At #1 doubles the Panther duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz where in a war. 
Bob surely offering some sage advice.
The man of the hour. Andrew 'Alpha' Lebovitz.
Down a break 4-6 Johno and Lebo played a lights out game and got the break back and consolidated it with a hold to even the match at 6-6. As Johno and Lebo evened the match the #2 team of B-Jones and P-Dawg won 8-3 for a dominating victory against a tough team. The #2's win pushed the dual match score to 2-0 as Ari and Peter had won several eons ago. At 7-7 Lebo played one of the better return games of the year but the boys couldn't quite get the break and the match was pushed to a tiebreak. But fear not as Lebo seemed to have entered the much talked about, but seldom visited athletic 'Zone'. The guy could not miss and insisted on hitting every ball, be it a return or volley, 100 miles per hour and 1 inch above the tape. On serve 4-5 Lebo put in two smart first serves to put the Panthers up 6-5. Johno, who had been frustrated with his returns when the team couldn't capitalize at 7-7, laced a backhand and after a bit scurrying Johno put down a volley for a 9-8(5) victory and a Panther 3-0 doubles sweep.
The duo of destruction.
Post doubles sweep excitement! Though everyone knows you still need 2 more points.
The Panthers keep the momentum going in singles winning 4 first sets and putting the squeeze on from many directions. At #6 singles Jackson Frons, happy to be back in his home state, played a brilliant match against a testy serve and volleyer and was first off with a 6-4, 6-2 victory that put the Panthers up 4-0.
Frons after a quick day at the office.
Our resident acrobat.
P-dawg was well on his way to a win after one his more solid matches of the year.
The search for the fifth point came down to #1, #2, #3 singles who were up (6-1, 6-5), (6-2, 6-5), and (6-3, 5-3), respectively. Johno, whose parents and brother traveled all the way from England to watch the big Brit play, opted to take the clinch and after his victory that gave Midd the 5-1 win, fired a ball to a different stratosphere in celebration.
Post-match meeting.

With the win Midd moves on to the semifinals, to played in just a few hours, against the #1 ranked team of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. There is live video as well as some interesting commentary on http://www.ncaa.com/liveschedule so tune if you have some free time. Wish us luck and we'll get back to you tomorrow, hopefully with a pre-championship match post!

A little bonus media as here's a post match interview with Bob and Johno courtesy of CMS athletics.


-Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles

Monday, May 12, 2014

Elite 8!

Last week after a tough loss to Amherst in the NESCAC tournament finals we said we had learned a valuable lesson. Part one of the lesson was that getting swept, or even losing the doubles point, makes winning much more challenging. Part two was that doubles point or no doubles point we can battle at all six singles position. And a day after quickly dispatching Babson College in the round of 32, the Midd Panthers applied said lessons in a brilliant match against defending NCAA Champion Williams College.
Sweet 16 introductions!

Lebo hasn't missed a half volley since 1800.
Coincidentally, the same year Middlebury was founded.
Going into doubles confidence was high as we were familiar with our opponents and the collective feeling was that if we played with the right mix of aggression, resiliency, and composure the chips would fall our way. However, at #1 doubles the senior duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz weren't content with hoping the chips would fall their way, they were counting cards to ensure it. Johno started it off with a hold at love, only to be followed up by a Panther break at love. Five points later Lebo had held and after winning 12 of the first 13 points the Panther's had a 3-0 lead. At two doubles things were decidedly more choppy for the team of Brantner Jones and Palmer Campbell as they were broken early to go down 1-2. They battled back to regain the break at 5-5 only to be broken again on the very next game to go down 5-6. The #3 doubles tandem of Ari Smolyar and Peter Heidrich were in a similar position. They went down a break early, regained the break and were then broken right back for a 5-6 hole.

The Midd supporters were out in droves on Saturday.
14 Strong! Post doubles team huddle.
First off were #1 doubles, who had stopped winning every game and were instead just winning most, with an 8-3 victory that put the Panther's up 1-0. Next off was #3 who never really got back on track after the early break and subsequently fell 8-6. Not long after #3 came off the #2 team lost by a matching 8-6 score and Panthers found themselves down after doubles for only the second time all season. The question quickly became would the Panther's take a lesson from last weekend's loss and rally behind strong singles play or forgo the the aforementioned learning experience and stumble.
The LaZe man.
Singles started off close with only perennial superstar Brantner Jones running away with a first set 6-1. Yet, despite the margin in the first sets being very slim the Panthers flexed their muscles and somehow won all six of them. At #1 singles Johno won the first 6-3, as mentioned Brantner won 6-1 at #2, Palmer grabbed his first 7-5, at #4 Ari won 7-5, at #5 Courtney won 7-6(2), and at #6 Frons went up 6-4. Taking all 6 sets against any top 30 team is a real challenge and to do so against a team as strong as Williams showed what heart this Panther squad has. B-Jones followed up his dominating first set with a workmen like second and finished off the match with a 6-1, 6-4 win that knotted the overall score at 2 apiece. Shortly thereafter Palmer finished off his second set, which was decidedly less close than the first, and grabbed the third point for the Panthers with a 7-5, 6-2 victory.
Brantner with the slick-back hair. 
Courtney, ever so politely, telling the Williams coach to mind his own business.
Though Midd had clearly swung the momentum in our direction the work was far form done as Williams had dug in at #1 and #6 and taken second sets by identical 6-3 scores. At #4 and #5 Midd was up a break in both second sets by the going was tough. Eventually Ari Smolyar managed to seal the deal and bring home the fourth point for Midd with a 7-5, 6-3 win. And as Alex and Jackson both began their third sets the man of the hour Courtney Mountifield made sure he was the one to end the match winning the second and clinching his match as well as the match for Midd with a 7-6(2), 6-3 win.
Smolyar grinding!

Bruchmiller approves.
With the victory the Panther's advance to the Elight 8 in Claremont, California. Play begins on Monday, May 19th when the Panther's will face a talented Case Western team. The Midd migration will begin Friday with the team heading out a few days early to ensure we're properly adjusted to the heat as well as the outdoor conditions. In addition to the team qualifying for the tournament we were also pleased to learn that Alex Johnston qualified for the NCAA Individual tournament in singles while Alex and Lebo qualified for the tournament in doubles. Brantner is the first alternate in singles so here's to hoping someone has to withdraw from the tournament for the most benign reason possible. Wish us luck as we head west with the goal of winning the 2014 NCAA National Championship creeping closer and closer.
We're headed to Claremont! Elite 8 on Monday the 19th versus Case Western
Seniors celebrate their second straight trip to the final 8. 
-Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

NESCAC Tournament and Early Rounds of NCAAs

As the three coaches sat in Bob's house Monday night reminiscing on the weekend, and specifically comparing the moods of their respective car rides home from Bowdoin College and the 2014 NESCAC Conference Tournament, there was a feeling of excitement. Not because there is any sense of satisfaction from taking second in what is undoubtedly the strongest tennis conference in Division III, but because the players had already put this challenging defeat in the proper context. Yes, it was difficult for the seniors to push so hard and make their first NESCAC final only to lose. Yes, getting swept in doubles for the first time was a shock to the system. And yes, the path to the NCAA championship did get slightly more difficult. But collectively the players were looking past all these negatives and pulling out positives. There was a resounding sentiment that while we've been great in doubles there has been some complacency on the practice courts and we must continue to push to get better. And that while we have the ability to sweep any team in the country if we come out with good energy and fire, we can also be swept if we come out flat. And finally, that this loss, as painful as it was, will push us to get better before the NCAA tournament begins, and come year end we may look back on this as a blessing in disguise.
Unfortunately we had no photographer this weekend so we have to use some older photos.
However, you probably never would've noticed had I not told you. So there's that.
Ari Bomaye!
As you may know, or at least should've deduced by now, the Middlebury Panthers fell just short of the postseason NESCAC crown falling 5-1 in the finals to Amherst College. The path to the finals began on Saturday with the Panther's facing a strong Bowdoin team on their home courts. Middlebury won the earlier bout clipping Bowdoin 7-2 in mid-April but the first match had been played at Middlebury and Midd had to save multiple match points at #3 doubles to come away with the doubles point. Granted we also rolled with relative ease in singles, but nonetheless this was not a match to overlook. And as Coach Hansen likes to say, “I learned a long time ago if they can put on a pair of shorts, they can beat you.” The warmup began outdoors but to no New Englander's surprise the rain started to fall just before the first points were played. And because the Williams/Amherst semi-final was not over we moved to the indoor facility and then had to wait another half hour for Amherst to clinch. A mere ten minute warmup later and we were ready for play. At all three positions Middlebury started off well, but not with the positivity and fire that is typical of this Panther bunch. As the matches creeped along neither team was able to break and things were starting to look dodgy. That feeling was exemplified when Bowdoin broke on #3 to go up 4-5 and then mere seconds later broke on #1. The noise and excitement Bowdoin brought after picking up breaks seemed to roust the Panther's from their mid-afternoon naps and all of the sudden we went on a roll. We immediately broke back at #3 and #1 and went up a break at #2. The #3 tandem of Ari Smolyar and net-monster Peter Heidrich were first off reeling off 4 more games to win 8-5. Not long after the rockstar #2 duo of Palmer Campbell and Brantner Jones won 8-5 leaving only the #1 team on court. After trading breaks at 5-5 both teams held to a tiebreak where Bowdoin went ahead 6-5 serving. Bowdoin's #1 player Noah Bragg hit a huge serve out wide to Alex Johnston's backhand who somehow got behind it and dipped it beautifully below net level forcing Bragg to hit a low volley they he couldn't get up over the net. The Panther's grabbed the next points on routine, well as routine as an Andrew Lebovitz flying backhand volley spike can be, plays and clinched the doubles sweep. 
Lebovitz launching a lefty lazer.
In singles it was a race to the finish line as Midd was applying pressure at all positions. Johnston was first off topping Bragg in a 6-4, 7-6(3) battle to add the 4th point to the Middlebury score column and shortly thereafter Smolyar clinched the match 6-2, 7-5. Being as it is the postseason tournament the match stopped after the clinch, however Midd was leading at the four other singles spots and had the match continued a 9-0 sweep was feasible.
Pre-match visualization before Amherst. The one original photo from the weekend.
After a good night's sleep the Panther's awoke to rainy skies which meant that the NESCAC finals against Amherst College would be played indoors. Loyal Panther followers will remember just a few weeks ago when the Panther's eked out a 5-4 win indoors versus Amherst and Midd nation was hoping for a little more of the same. However, Amherst had a different plan as they came out on fire in doubles. At #2 and #3 doubles the Lord Jeffs opened the match with breaks and at #1 they grabbed a break just a few games in. The #1 team of Johnston and Lebovitz managed to get the break back but they were unable to consolidate and were immediately broken back the following game to go down 6-5. After a quick hold by Amherst the strong Jeff duo broke again to take the 8-5 victory and give Amherst the 1-0 lead. At #2 and #3 the Panther's struggled to get into Amherst's return games and eventually both teams fell, #2 by a single break 8-5 and #3 by two breaks 8-4. Given that the Panther's have not lost the doubles point this entire year being swept was very unfamiliar territory. Yet despite the new situation the Panther's came out strong in singles. 
B-jones leaning on his patented slice approach.
At #1 Johnston played a brilliant first set but was broken late to drop it 6-4. At #2 Brantner battled back after dropping the first 2-6 to win the second 6-2 and had a great deal of momentum entering the third. At #3 Palmer fell into a hole early but managed to work hard and grab the first in a breaker. At #4 Ari recovered from a tough first set and put up a wall in the second forcing his talented opponent to refine his game plan. At #5 Courtney Mountifield was hitting the ball as big as he has all year and was in a close battle. And at #6 Jackson Frons overcame a less than stellar performance versus Bowdoin to tally a dominating 6-4, 6-1 victory that gave Middlebury it's only point of the day. Eventually Johnston and Smolyar lost their respective second sets to give Amherst the 5-1 lead and the clinch.
Enjoy this for what it is. 
Despite the loss the following day Middlebury received the good news that we will be hosting a an early round regional of the NCAA tournament and are the 4th seed overall. On Friday we will play the winner of Babson/Colby-Sawyer and if we win we will play the winner of Williams/Skidmore on Saturday with the victor earning a berth to the elite eight which begins the following week in Claremont, CA. Match times are still being determined and looking at the forecast it's possible we will be inside but we will be sure to keep Panther parents, alumni, and supporters in the loop. Once again we would like to thank everyone for their continued support throughout the season and wish us luck this weekend.

Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

NESCAC (Regular Season) Champions!

When a team is not yet prepared to win big matches you can see it in the player's eyes when the opportunity presents itself. There is fear, nerves, and an unconscious, but deep seeded belief, that this is not going to end up well. On the contrary when a team has done the necessary work to prepare themselves for the 'moment' and truly believes that their efforts over the past few months and years have prepared them to perform courageously when it matters, it's just as evident. On Saturday the latter presented itself time and time again and whether it was in singles, doubles, or through support from the sidelines the Panther's believed.
Pre-match visualization in the locker room. Spoiler alert: Pete (lower right) is pretty good at this stuff. 
The most recent rendition of the classic Middlebury-Amherst NESCAC matchup took place in Nelson Arena (amazingly our 11th match of the year that has been played inside versus only 8 outside) on the morning of Saturday, April 26th with the winner earning the #1 seed in the NESCAC tournament the following weekend. Following the national anthem the double's teams took the courts and teed it up. At the #1 spot the match started on serve but the Lord Jeffs were looking strong. Joey Fritz, Amherst's #1 singles and doubles player, hits a very big ball and indoors his serve was untouchable. At the #2 spot the ever dependable team of Brantner Jones and Palmer Campbell came out hot and went up an early break 5-2, Campbell was especially toasty hitting several brilliant winners and then turning to the crowd and sticking out his tongue in his patented, yet bizarre, celebration ritual. 
B-Jones and Palmer before domination.
In the background notice Bob, who has a keen eye for net heights, ensuring that center strap is exactly thirty-six inches.
At #3 the Panther's were facing by the far the strongest team they had faced all year and looked unprepared early on. They went down 0-3 in a hurry before they finally settled in and started to trade service holds. #2 was the first off was a dominating 8-3 victory that gave the Panther's the 1-0 lead in the match. Shortly after #2 came off the #1 team of Andrew Lebovitz and Alex Johnston fell 8-6, unable to overcome a 4-4 service break and the match was knotted 1-1.
Lebo bringing his usual positive energy.
At #3 doubles things were not looking good. Down a single break 4-7 the Panther's would need a hold, a break, and another hold to put themselves back in contention. But as legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” And the Panther's certainly had a great opportunity. Ari Smolyar served a solid game to hold and push the score to 5-7, then returning against the extremely talented serve and volley specialist Michael Solimano, the Panther duo played a stunning return game to break for 6-7. A gritty service game by Smolyar pushed the match to 7-7 where both teams each picked up one more hold to send the match to a tiebreak. Before the tiebreak Smolyar and Peter Heidrich looked confident but Heidrich had an unsettling grin on his face. As Coach Sabel walked up to deliver some final words of encouragement Heidrich smiled big and said, “I've been visualizing this moment for the last couple of weeks.” And if visualizing can do to anyone else what it did to Heidrich in that breaker, we all should spend a couple minutes a day thinking about positive outcomes to pressure packed scenarios as he played some of the best doubles of the year to give Midd a 6-5 tiebreak lead. Not wanting to miss out the moment Smolyar did his best super hero side kick impersonation and hit a massive, untouchable return on match point to give the Panther's the 9-8(5) victory and the 2-1 lead going into singles.
Moment's after the #3 doubles clinch.
Pre-singles huddle.
One can only imagine who or what P-dawg is smiling at. 
As the singles started up it was evident, well I suppose more evident is a better term, that this match was going to be a war. Every match was tight with neither player in any match able to gain a two game advantage over his opponent. Eventually Jones broke away at #2 singles and took a 5-2 lead in the first. However, his opponenet locked in at battled back reeling off five straight games to give Amherst the first set at #2. At #1 Alex Johnston played a great first set and was able to come away with a tiebreak to give Midd the first set. At #3 Palmer Campbell got broken late in the set and couldn't recover as he dropped the first to one of Division III's few remaining true serve and volleyers. At #4 Ari Smolyar played his usual brand of aggressive, in your face tennis to grab the first 6-4 to give each team 2 first sets. At #1 singles Johnston upped his game to previously unseen levels that would've legitimately made him one of the better Division I players in the country, and reeled off an unbelievable 6 games in a row for a 7-6(4), 6-0 victory that give the Panther's their third point of the match.
Johno mobbed after his second set obliteration of Fritz.
Next off was #4 where Smolyar's opponent seemed uninterested in doing what it was going to take to beat the relentless Panther. In his defense, few have this year as Smolyar has gone an amazing 14-1 in singles play with his only loss coming 10-8 in a super tie break. Shortly after Smolyar came off and gave the Panther's the 4-1 lead the Jeff's shot back and grabbed #3 singles 6-4, 6-3 to push the score to 4-2. As #5 and #6 singles started Brantner Jones pulled off a trick you'd know was coming if you watched Brantner play this year and played a stellar second set to even the match at one set a piece. As the third set began it become evident that it was all going to come down to this match. While Jackson Frons and Courtney Mountifield were battling they both seemed to have met their opponents on the wrong day and on the wrong surface as each were on the wrong end of 6-1 first set losses. Jones played a great game at 3-3 and broke to go up 4-3. He held for 5-3 and then took a 15-40 lead in his opponent’s next service game that gave the Panther's two match, match points. In what Brantner would later describe as one of the worst forehands of this life (always one for the hyperbole is Mr. Jones) he lost the first, then lost the second to a bout of nerves when he failed to scoop a running forehand pass over the next. Amherst played two solid points to grab the hold and make the set score 5-4 with Brantner serving. Determined not to make the same mistake twice Brantner played a gritty and courageous service game unloading forehand after forehand to his opponent's backhand and sprinting to the net when the opportunity presented itself to go up 40-15. With yet another match, match point Jones spun a serve in, put his opponent on the ropes with consecutive forehands to opposite corners, then found one he liked and smashed it to the backhand side. He ran in behind it and poked a forehand volley up the line, well out of his opponent's reach, threw his racquet to the ground and thrust his hands in the air. Victory!
B-Jones clinches!
Bobby and Brantner hug it out.
Teammates join in on the celebration!
And Zach holds onto his lucky singles stick, which he refused to put down after B-Jone turned the tides in the second set.
The Panther's had about twenty-two minutes to enjoy the victory before hopping in the vans and making the three hour trek down to Medford, Massachusetts were the Panthers were slated to play the Tufts Jumbos in the morning. It is always a challenge getting back up for a match after such an emotional high and the Panther's certainly struggled in this regard versus the Jumbos. Nonetheless we managed to take two of three doubles and then four of six singles for a routine 6-3 win. In addition to our usual traveling leap of Panther parents it was great to see alums Kevin Bergersen and his father, Derrick Angle, as well as former head coach Dave Schwarz in the crowd. After the match we were fortunate enough to head thirty minutes north to Weston, Mass and eat an incredible spread of food at the Lebovitz's home before another three hour drive back to Midd.

This next weekend we'll head up to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine to play in the NESCAC tournament. Because we're the #1 seed we will have a bye on Friday and then will face the lowest seed still left in the tournament on Saturday. Depending on how things go that will either be Bowdoin, Trinity, or Tufts. And if we do our job on Saturday the finals will be Sunday morning. Wish us luck and we'll report back next weekend, hopefully with a conference championship under our belt!

-Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles