|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.
One can only imagine who or what P-dawg is smiling at.
|Johno mobbed after his second set obliteration of Fritz.|
|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.
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