Saturday, November 8, 2014

Closing Up the Fall Season

Panther Nation,
Following a unique Davis Cup style tournament at Tufts, and an innovative week of training with guest coach, Morgan Shepard, the Middlebury Panthers’ fall season has come to a close. Intigrating our all-star freshman class with the rest of our squad was one of our early goals as coaches, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the skills, leadership, and personalities brought in by our newcomers.

We are always striving to create a team environment where we compete fiercely against each other while maintaining respect and the ability to congratulate each other on good play. This can be a hard line to walk as emotions on court can heat up quickly. Our final fall event at Tufts was a perfect test in this regard since several of our two-man teams met each other late in the draw as we dominated most of the tournament.

Will and Pete leaf peeping before battling for the title

The duo of Ari Smolyar and Pete Heidrich fought for the A-flight title against teammates Courtney Mountifield and Will De Quant. With this blockbuster final set, both coaches hoped to see a closely contested but respectful match. The stakes were raised with each fist pump by Smolyar, and much improved freshman, De Quant, refused to back down, sending a few “come on’s” back to the Smolyar/Heidrich duo. Even the cool headed Mountifield offered up a jolt of intensity, giving Smolyar a stare down as one of his backhand lobs landed gently on the back baseline for a winner.

After the smoke cleared, Ari and Pete rose from the ashes as victors in a 2-1 team victory. However, we were proud of both teams for their acknowledgement of their opponents’ good play and for their intensity that never got out of hand. Hats off to the Panthers here.  
Allen The Forehand Jackson

Other highlights from the event included freshman pair, Noah Farrell and Kyle Schlanger, continuing their inspiring doubles play by complementing each other’s strengths well. Kyle’s stealthy and smooth net play continues to get fans out of their seats.  
Jackson entering like a ray of sunshine

Chris Frost and Palmer “Johnny Football” Campbell continued their Wam-Bam style doubles, stacking up several victories and establishing themselves as a brute doubles force.

We returned from Tufts with one week of practice left before entering the off-season. For this week of training we brought in coach Morgan Shepard, former DIII NCAA singles finalist, former Boise State assistant coach, and current master of somatic psychology with relation to athletic movement. Morgan played for Bob in the early 90’s and we couldn’t wait to have him work with us for our last week of training. Morgan spent individual time with everyone, focusing on stroke mechanics with a special attention to body awareness through the swing. Morgan certainly has a unique mind for the game and his teachings were enlightening; everyone expressed gratitude as Morgan was on court from 8:30-5:30 through out the week giving private lessons.

Timo- rapidly improving
Now in the off-season, the guys are taking a week to rest their bodies and focus on mid-term exams. Once they are itching to get back on the court, our seniors will lead short but sweet workouts and practice sessions for all.

A very important final note: We’d like to thank our team parents for their amazing support this fall season. At every tournament, home and away, we had a wonderful showing of family who made each event more special and were incredibly generous with offering the boys lunch and snacks. Thank you parents! 

We’ll pick back up in February with the start of our dual match season. Until then, happy holidays from Panther Town and we wish everyone the very best!



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Panthers in Maine

The Panthers returned late Sunday night from a weekend of action at the Wallach Invitational tournament, hosted by Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. We’ve seen competition every other weekend this fall season, and the chance to go back to the drawing board after each event has led to major strides in certain aspects of our games. In particular, we’ve put a focus on improving our serves and the work we’ve put in showed during the weekend.
Boys of Fall

Our best result was in Ari Smolyar winning the A singles draw; Ari battled through 2 close matches before shifting into high gear for his final two matches, giving up a combined 5 games in the semi-finals and finals. Ari’s commitment to attacking his serve and to maintaining a positive attitude on court came through beautifully.

Natives of North Carolina, USA
Freshman sensation, Noah Farrell, lit up the court en route to the A singles draw semi-finals. His semi-final loss was closely contested and was avenged by Ari in the finals as Panthers always have each other's backs.

Will De Quant had a break out tournament in winning the D singles draw, edging teammate Pete Heidrich in the final. Will used his forehand as a major weapon, and Pete dug his heals in, making Will earn his bacon- hats off to both Panthers.

Captain Frost with rookie teammate, Will DQ
Courtney Mountifield, while losing a match we all know he can win, made a huge stride in his ability to hit an aggressive forehand. Also impressive was Courntey’s serve, which reached velocities previously unseen by spectators, teammates, coaches, and all those familiar with the diverse Mountifield skillset.

This doubles pairing has SKILLS
On the doubles side, we saw high level of play from Chris Frost and partner Will, reaching the final match in the B doubles draw. Chris continues to post solid doubles results with various partners. Despite this good result, it seems we’ve faired better in singles through out the fall season, and thus will enter the next 2 weeks of practice with special attention to doubles. 
Headed to the top!

Our next competition comes in the form of a series of “hidden dual matches” to be played at Tufts University on the weekend of the 25th. We couldn’t be more thrilled to watch the maturation of our boys in competition and to put to test all our hard work as a group.

Over and out, Midd Tennis Nation.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

ITA Regional Roundup


The 2014 ITA Fall Northeast Regional is in the books after 3 days of sunny 80 degree weather and wonderful tennis to match. First off, big thanks to the parents who came out to support us, a fantastic Midd fan presence was felt!
Senior leadership 

While there wasn’t a Panther winner in the singles or doubles, there were certainly results to be proud of and to learn from. With a commitment to controlling points with his forehand and using his serve aggressively, Jackson Frons reeled of 4 straight wins to reach the semi-finals of the singles draw before falling to a tough Wesleyan opponent. It’s promising to see various guys take jumps in their level and lead the way.

The man around town
Ari Smolyar blew through two rounds of competition to reach the second day in the singles tournament. Ari fell just short of a quarterfinal berth after holding 3 match points against Bates’ top player. We’re convinced, with a bit more match and mental experience, Ari will put the finishing touches on matches like these in the future.

Noah won 3 convincing matches en-route to the quarterfinals, keeping up his high level of play from the Midd Invite.

In doubles we used the tournament as another testing round to experiment with different combinations as we have many excellent options for doubles teams; each of our 3 teams in the draw won their first round matchups.   
Courtney 'game face' Mountifield

One highlight in doubles action was the last match played on Saturday night, which was moved indoors to Nelson because of light. Ari and Courtney faced off against the Bates team who went on to win the tournament. Even though Ari and Courtney were defeated, we showed our Panther pride by having the entire team on the sidelines out-cheering the Bates team well into a Saturday evening.

Pete leaning...hard
Since the tournament ended, we have been thinking of ways to improve and gain ground on these teams before we see many of them again in the spring. With the right training, both physical and mental, we hope to build ourselves and add layers of offense to our games before the dual match season.

Next up is the Bates Invite tournament the weekend of October 11th. We’re feeling great about our fall season schedule in having a tournament every other weekend, giving us time to reload and work on parts of our games before the next round of competition.

Thanks and GO MIDD!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

ITA Northeast Regional Tournament

It’s 9AM and matches are just underway at day two of the ITA Northeast Regional here in Middlebury. With temperatures predicted to hit 80 degrees this afternoon, action on court will be hot in multiple ways. Marquee round of 16 matches include Jackson Frons taking on Andrew Yaraghi from defending national champions, Amherst. Jackson outlasted 8th seed Dan Carpenter from Trinity to set up today’s Midd-Amherst clash. Midd freshman, Noah Farrell cruised to two victories yesterday and takes on Zain Ali from Tufts this morning. The last Midd player left in the singles draw is Ari Smolyar, who recorded two straight sets victories yesterday and takes on Bates’s top player in Pierre Planche.

Yesterday’s doubles draw featured wins from Panther duos Palmer Campbell and Kyle Schlanger, Pete Heidrich and Chris Frost, Courtney Mountifield and Ari.

Stay tuned to the Midd Tennis Twitter page for hourly match updates.

Special thanks to Panthers Will DeQuant and Timo Van der Geest in their help running the Proctor scorers table.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Panthers are back!

Welcome back Midd Tennis fans to the start of the 2014 fall season. With 5 freshmen and one junior college transfer joining our squad, much of our early September training has been focused on bringing the newcomers up to speed on and off the court. Without further ado, let’s introduce the newest panther additions.

Noah Farrell
Hailing from Wilton Connecticut, Noah enters Midd after being ranked 1 in New England for singles and doubles in the 18s and as high as 86 on 
Why he chose Midd: “While looking for schools, I was looking for a school that has a great academic institution, and a tennis team that has a great chance to win the national championship. Midd fit both qualities.”

Hamid Derbani
From Casablanca, Morocco, Hamid competed for his home country in the Junior Davis Cup in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. He was ranked as high as 480 in the ITF junior world rankings.

Will DeQuant
 From Monaco, France, Will enters Middlebury having played #1 doubles and #2 singles for Saint Stephens Episcopal High School.
Why he chose Midd: “When I visited, I fell in love with the campus; I had great admiration for Coach Hansen and the dedication and hard work of the team.”

Kyle Schlanger
A native of North Carolina, Kyle previously was ranked as high as 28 in the Southern Region and competed in team zonal competition in both the 16’s and 18’s.
Why he chose Midd: “The classes are unbelievably well taught and the professors love nothing more than to teach their respective subjects.”

Timo van der Geest
Arriving at Midd from the Netherlands, Timo brings some team experience, having competed for the Oegstgeester Lawn Tennis Club in Holland, winning the regional championship in 2011.
“My first week Middlebury has brought me what I was hoping for. So far it has been great spending time with the tennis team both on and of court and I'm more than excited for the coming year!”

 Charlie Oberrender
Younger brother of former panther star, Will Oberrender, Charlie brings to the team a wealth of high school tennis experience and is our only lefty on this year’s squad. 

Ari Smolyar, "A" flight singles champion

Noah Farrell and the backhand that shocked the world

Fall action began last weekend with our Middlebury Invite event, which featured participants from Bates, Trinity of Connecticut, RPI, Tufts, Skidmore, and Brandeis. We were very excited to see our new players compete for the first time as well as track the progress of our returners. We were thrilled at the level of both groups and had some excellent results by the end of the weekend. 

The finals of the singles A flight featured Midd freshman Noah Farrell against veteran panther Ari Smolyar. Noah entered the final after beating the tournament’s top seed from Brandies in the quarter finals and then knocking off the talented big hitting Bulgarian from Tufts in the semifinals. Ari found his way to the final after squeezing through several tight super-breakers which were played in lieu of a third set. In the final, Ari returned to his clutch ways by edging his teammate in yet another super-breaker. Noah played spectacular tennis for a set and half before Ari mounted a comeback to take the 2nd set and then the match. 

Other highlights included Jackson Frons/Allen Jackson’s roaring comeback against a Tufts team who found themselves up 7-2 before Jackson and Allen reached top form. The Midd duo reeled off 7 straight games to take the match 9-7, and a spirited celebration on match point flashed serious panther muscle. 

Reservoir Dogs

Amazing support by parents and fans on campus- huge thanks!

The freshman doubles team of Kyle Schlanger and Will DeQuant, ran the table in the B flight doubles draw as they improved with each match en route to another all Midd final against teammates Jackson and Allen. With the sun going down and all other teams already on the road, a freshmen vs. upperclassmen clash was set. Both teams competed aggressively while maintaining respect for their teammates; the freshman came out victorious after a spectacular match point just before the day's last light disappeared behind proctor dining hall. 

Also notable was Peter and Chris’s run to the final of the doubles A flight. The duo’s experience and teamwork oriented mindset carried them to 3 straight victories in the top flight. In addition, Allen Jackson reached the B flight singles final before falling to a talented Skidmore player. Still to be played is the C flight singles final, where Kyle Schlanger and Chris Frost will vie for the title. 

Next up for the panthers is the ITA Regional Tournament, set to begin September 26th here at Middlebury. Stay tuned for more updates!

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 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 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