Wednesday, March 12, 2014

And We're Underway!

          Over the course of several Saturdays throughout the month of February the Panther's have laced up their shoes and faced one another in our weekly 'Blue and White' intra-squad matches. And as hard as we try to simulate the atmosphere of a match versus an opposing school, there is something about playing your own teammates that makes the experience feel slightly disingenuous. However, this past Saturday we finally got to face off against some real life competition. At 9 A.M. we opened our dual match season versus NESCAC conference foe Colby College and later in the afternoon we faced Brandeis. While both of these teams have been trending upward in the past few years we felt confident that given our depth we could play two completely different singles lineups, as well as several combinations of different doubles teams, in order to allow all 14 of our Panther stars an opportunity to shine. An opportunity they all capitalized on as every player was able to notch a win on opening day.
Preparing for battle!
            In the morning match, following what could quickly become a 2014 Panther tennis tradition, the playing of the national anthem before lineup introductions, our doubles teams took the court versus the Colby College Mules. Midd notched it's first point of the season not 30 minutes later when our #2 doubles teams of Brantner Jones and Palmer Campbell finished off their opponents 8-1. You know you have some doubles depth when the team currently ranked #1 in the country (Jones and Campbell) is playing at your #2 position. Courtney Mountifield and Jackson Frons were next on the board with an 8-2 victory at #3 doubles followed by a 8-3 win for Ari Smolyar and James Burke at #4 doubles. At the #1 doubles position the senior duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz faced a determined barren of freshman Mules and were unable to overcome some late serving struggles, making the score 2-1 in favor of Middlebury after doubles.
Brantner Jones and Palmer Campbell, currently ranked #1 in the country
            Much like his doubles performance Palmer Campbell needed only about 30 minutes to get the win at the #1 singles position when his opponent, down 0-3 to the hard hitting Campbell, rolled his ankle and retired from the match. Next off the court was the Bonesaw. Facing a talented Colby player senior Teddy Fitzgibbons was his usual self, tracking down balls and rarely missing en route to a 6-1, 6-2 victory at the #3 position. Minutes later Andrew Lebovitz clinched the match for the Panthers with a routine 6-1, 6-2 win at the #5 singles spot. Coach Hansen was particularly impressed with Lebovitz's work as he was able to rebound from a tough doubles loss to put together a virtuoso singles performance. And while it was never mentioned, we also suspect Coach Hansen was enamored with Lebovitz's play because of his tendency to chip and charge and serve and volley, something Coach Hansen remembers fondly from his glory days.
Bob's glory days?
 Chris Frost was next off with a dominating 6-0, 6-1 win at the #6 singles line. Frost, who is still kicking red clay off of his shoes after a fall abroad in Spain, as well as fellow junior Peter Heidrich have impressed everyone with how seamlessly they've integrated themselves into this years team, something that is not easy to do after spending several months in a foreign country. At the #2 singles position Courtney Mountifield was able to fend off a second set barrage as well as a match point in the deciding match tiebreak for a 7-6(0), 0-6, 11-9 victory. Last off the court was Zach Bruchmiller who overcame a tough first set tiebreak loss to pull out a 6-7(3), 6-4, 10-4 victory and the #4 position. The singles sweep gave the Panthers an 8-1 victory and moved our record to 1-0. After the match the boys grabbed a quick lunch, took a hour or two to rest up, and then were back at the courts for our 4 P.M. contest versus the Brandeis Judges.
Lebo channeling his inner panther. Ready to pounce!
            Johnston and Lebovitz, eager to overcome their morning loss, were first off the court against the Judges en route to an 8-2 victory at the #1 position. Brandeis quickly evened the score at 1-1 after Mountifield and Frons struggled to find their rhythm in an 8-2 loss at the #3 position. Jones and Campbell swung the momentum back in the direction of the Panthers with a routine 8-4 win at the #2 position. And Chris Frost and Jack Welch added a Panther bonus point with an 8-4 win at the #4 spot. Once again ahead 2-1 going into singles the Panthers rolled out an entirely new singles lineup who, like their morning counterparts, were looking for the singles sweep. At the #1 position Johnston found himself down 0-3 before reeling off 12 of the next 15 games for a 7-5, 6-1 victory. Next off was Ari Smolyar who fended off a second set counterattack from his opponent for the 6-0, 6-3 win at the #3 singles line. Jackson Frons clinched the match just a few minutes later with a 6-0, 6-4 win at the #4 singles spot. Allen Jackson one upped Alex Johnston's turnaround by dropping the first three games and then winning 12 of the next 13 for a solid 6-3, 6-1 win at the #5 spot and Peter Heidrich wrapped up the singles sweep with a 6-1, 6-2 win at #6 singles. The solid singles play gave the Panther's their second 8-1 victory of the day and moved our record to 2-0.
The Bonesaw was his usual rock solid self in singles.
            Overall the coaches were very satisfied with the quality of play. In particular we were impressed with our depth and how it manifested itself with dominating performances at the bottom of the singles lineup. Easy wins by Frons, Jackson, Heidrich, Lebovitz, and Frost demonstrated this exemplary play. And while there are certainly things we need to continue to get better at on the singles court, we were pleased with the way things have started. While we weren't quite as successful on the doubles court we learned a lot of things that will make us better going forward. In addition our #2 team looked very sharp and our #1 team did a great job of staying level headed and rebounding from a tough morning loss.
2004 NCAA National Championship Team
            The Panther men won't play their next NCAA dual match until we head south to Atlanta for spring break, however we'll still lace them up this Saturday in a match against former Middlebury all-stars. This upcoming weekend is the 'Return of the Champions' weekend with members of the 2004 as well as the 2010 NCAA National Championship teams returning to campus for a celebration of their accomplishments. They will also try to show they still have something in the tank as the former champions will put together a team to battle the current Panthers. They've even enlisted the aide of former Middlebury Men's coach Dave Schwarz to try and help guide them to victory. And while we won't know how sharp the old Panthers look until they step on the court the word on the street is that former co-captain Andrew Thomson is taking a month long break from competitive bass fishing (where he has become highly ranked in Southern California) to ensure ample on court preparation. We look forward to seeing some former champions and having a blast this weekend!

2010 NCAA National Championship Team
-Coaches Hansen, Sabel, and McConnell

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