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

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Welcome to the Main Event(s)!

What a beautiful time to be a Panther tennis fan as we sit a few days removed as well as a few days from two of the season's biggest events. We'll start with the celebration of the senior class of 2014 which occurred this past Saturday and work our way forward to one of the biggest Division III regular season match-ups of the year.
Pre-match visualization the day before Bowdoin and R.P.I. 
14 Strong!
Just a few days ago on April 19th the Panthers squared off against two formidable opponents in NESCAC foe Bowdoin, currently ranked #12 in the country, and a up an coming program in R.P.I. Bowdoin was the first match up of the day and it was touch and go all morning as to whether the match would be played indoors or outside. The forecast was calling for rain, but as anyone whose spent a bit of time in the area can attest to, the Champlain Valley does its own thing when it comes to weather. And despite ominous clouds looming throughout the warmup we were able to get started outside. 

The Polar Bears came out firing taking the leads at #1 and #3 doubles while the immensely talented duo of Palmer Campbell and Brantner Jones went up early at #2 and heading Coach Hansen's advice 'ran to the roar' for an 8-3 win to put Middlebury up 1-0. At the #1 position Andrew Lebovitz and Alex Johnston were unable to overcome early serving struggles and fell 8-5. Always looking to keep things interesting the #3 team of Peter Heidrich and Ari Smolyar managed to stage a late 'rally' to push the match to a tiebreak. In the breaker the boys found themselves down match point 5-6 before Heidrich came alive at the net knocking off three straight poaches for winners to give Midd a 9-8(6) win and 2-1 overall lead.
Pre-match national anthem. 
In the opening stages of singles the Polar Bears dug in and took first sets at #1, #2, and #5 while Midd grabbed the openers at #3, #4, and #6. Not long after he won his first set Jackson Frons was the first off at #6 with a dominating 6-0, 6-0 win. To be fair his opponent did seem to be a bit injured, but we'll take the double bagels where we can get them. Next off was Ari Smolyar who followed up a grinding 7-5 first set win with a Smolyar-esque 6-0 second set to push the overall to 4-1 in favor of Midd. At #1 and #5 singles Midd evened the score with Alex Johnston taking the second 6-0 and Courtney Mountifield winning 6-3. Not long after Alex and Courtney evened their matches up Brantner Jones won his second set 6-2 to give him a 6-3, 6-2 victory and Midd the ever elusive 5th point. At #2 singles Palmer Campbell struggled to find his rhythm against an immensely talented Polar Bear while Alex and Courtney were both able to finish off their opponents making the final 7-2 in favor of Midd.
Lebo reminds Alex that three balls is in fact one too many. 
In the afternoon rubber the Panthers opted to due what few teams have the luxury of doing, playing all six of their seniors on senior day. At #1 doubles the senior duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz ran away with their match grabbing an 8-4 win and notching the first point for the Panthers. At #3 doubles senior James Burke and Chris Frost produced a solid win pulling away 8-5. At #2 doubles senior Brantner Jones and Palmer Campbell found themselves down 3-7, and then down a match point at 4-7 before somehow clawing their way back into the match and pushing it to a tiebreak. The Panther duo saved one more match point, couldn't capitalize on a match point of their own, and then finally lost 9-8(7) to give Midd a 2-1 lead going into doubles. Despite the loss (their first in Division III this year mind you) the resilience of the two was very impressive as they never went away even when they were in a deep hole and not playing particularly well.
B-jones rope a doping forehands. 
James Burke lines one up.
In singles the Panthers rolled out a senior heavy lineup with Alex Johnston at #1, Branther Jones at #3, Zach Bruchmiller at #4, Teddy Fitzgibbons at #5, and doubles specialist turned singles superstar Andrew Lebovitz at #6. It must've been Palmer Campbell's lucky day as was fortunate enough to take the courts with this group of wise sages at the #2 singles position. Teddy was first off, which is a solid indication that the Bonesaw's serrated blade is as sharp as ever, with a 6-0, 6-2 victory. Next off was Brantner who produced another solid singles performance winning 6-1, 6-3. Bringing home of the 5th point and officially moving Middlebury's record to an impressive 15-2 on the season was Mr. Lebovitz with a 6-3, 6-0 W. Palmer grabbed the last point for the Panther's while Alex and Zach both fell to gritty Engineers to make the final 6-3 in favor of Midd.

Following the two wins the Panther family made a slow migration to 51 Main where the men's and women's teams celebrated the accomplishments and achievements of the seniors. It was an incredible event with Coach Hansen delivering some great speeches that revealed just a little bit more about our treasured leaders. Yet despite the celebration there was little time to bask in our glory as Tuesday we squared off against #26 Skidmore who was coming off a weekend victory over #5 Williams Ephs.
Senior dinner! Teddy, I'm not certain, but I believe that's the same sport coat Bob wore to his high school prom.
The last few matches the coaching staff has been impressed with the quality of play but we continue to ask for a complete effort from our boys. That is, we want everyone to play well, or at the very least compete well, on the same day. And on Tuesday we got that in spades. In doubles the Panther's dominated at every position winning 8-3 at #1, 8-4 at #2, and 8-4 at #3. Given the quality of the Skidmore teams that was no small feat as we hadn't really buried a team in doubles until Tuesday. In singles the effort was equally impressive as #2 through #6 singles all won in straight sets. The lone loss on the day occurred at #1 singles where Alex Johnston was facing the very talented Oliver Loutsenko. Despite the loss Alex played incredible tennis and beyond that his mindset was a thing of beauty. He competed hard all match and stayed positive when the going got tough. Beating Skidmore 8-1 was a wonderful way to wrap up this stretch of matches and a great result to prepare ourselves for this weekend's battles.
Bruchmiller in hot pursuit of a forehand.
Ah yes, this weekend's battles. On Saturday the panthers will face #2 Amherst in what may be the most anticipated Division III regular season matchup of the year. Both teams only have one Division III blemish on their records, Middlebury's to Emory and Amherst's to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, and both teams desperately want the win to lock up the #1 seed going into the NESCAC tournament. The #1 seed insures the winner a slightly more manageable route to the NESCAC championships as whoever comes out on top will likely avoid #5 Williams in the semifinals. After what we hope is a glorious Saturday the Panther's will hop in the vans for a drive down to Tufts University where we play our final regular season match on Sunday. Wish us luck and go Midd!
Bob doling out a 'thank you' the only way he knows how. 

-Coaches Hansen, Sabel, and McConnell

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Road Trip!

On April 10th the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) released new national rankings (click here for full rankings). Since the previous rankings release the men of Middlebury have risen two spots and find themselves ranked #8 in the country. While this is a respectable ranking, the ever ambitious Panthers are far from satisfied and the following day, April 11th, set out on a challenging 3 day road trip to face off against #5 Williams, #29 Wesleyan, and #27 Trinity in three NESCAC matchups.
Middlebury Men's Tennis 2013-2014. Professional photo. Professional caption. 
After a quick two-hour drive down to Williamstown, Massachusetts the Panthers took the courts and prepared for battle. Despite the forecast only calling for a 20% chance of rain and Coach Hansen not getting the ‘achy joints’ that typically precede a storm, it started to pour 10 minutes before match time. Though we held out hope that the clouds would pass the Williams coaching staff made the quick decision to move the match indoors. While it was in no way an act of gamesmanship (it continued to rain for quite some time so indoors was our only option) the decision to move the match indoors certainly favored the Ephs.
Bobby ready to doll out some sage advice literally moments before the it started to pour.
Though we’ve spent a great deal of time practicing indoors this year, the William’s indoor court are not true tennis courts and are instead a plastic surface that is rolled out in the hockey arena. However, when you’re hot you’re hot and the Midd doubles teams were hot. 
The indoor complex right before doubles play.
At #1 doubles the standout duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz continued there winning ways with an 8-5 win over a tough Eph team. At #2 doubles the undefeated (in Division III play) team of Brantner Jones and Palmer Campbell got broken early and found themselves down 0-3. However, the ever-optimistic Coach McConnell was unconcerned. During a changeover he calmly sauntered over to the third court where Coach Sabel was monitoring #3 doubles and whispered with a toothy grin, “Worst three games ever. Don’t worry though, we’ll win.” 
Coach Charles 'The Prophet' McConnell
And win they did, taking 8 of the next 11 games for an 8-6 win. At #3 doubles the Panther’s were grasping to life with their infamous retractable claws. They faced at least 10 break points throughout the match and were having a great deal of difficulty getting into the Ephs service games. Unable to break and unwilling to be broken the match went to a tiebreak where Williams went up a mini-break 5-4 with the huge serving Rohan Shastri holding the match on his racquet. Somehow Ari Smolyar caught up to a rocket Shastri first serve for an unbelievable, and match saving, inside out forehand return winner. After trading points on serve Smolyar came through again putting a return down at 7-6 that partner Peter Heidrich closed brilliantly on and knocked off a returner’s partner poach for a 9-8(6) victory and a 3-0 doubles sweep.
The Bone-saw continues to improve after some early season health issues.
The match felt very similar to the Emory match (granted we were up 3-0 as opposed to 2-1) in that all the doubles matches were very close and you got the feeling singles was going to be a war. However, unlike Emory where Midd dropped first sets at all 4 singles positions, Midd dominated the beginning of singles and won first sets at all 4. At #1 singles Alex Johnston took the first 6-4, at #2 Palmer Campbell went up 6-2, Brantner Jones grabbed it 6-1 at #3, and Courtney Mountifield won 6-3 at #4. Palmer was first to close the deal winning the second set 6-0 for a dominating 6-2, 6-0 win that put Midd up 4-0. Yet despite early match domination the ever-elusive fifth point was proving hard to come by. As Ari Smolyar closed out the first set at #5, Williams pushed back at #1, #3, and #4. At #3 Brantner dropped the second 1-6, but as he’s done so often this year he stayed composed and looked ready to battle for the third. 
A demonstration of the various shots in the game of tennis. 
The battle however, was quite one sided as Brantner played six brilliant games to win the third 6-0 for a 6-1, 1-6, 6-0 victory that gave the Midd the insurmountable 5-0 lead. Not long after the clinch Johno and Courtney were unable to overcome their respective opponents as they both fell in 3 sets. At #5 Smolyar saved a few set points in the second set tiebreak to sneak away with a 6-4, 7-6(6) win. At #6 singles Jackson Frons, who will tell anyone who’ll listen that he’s tired of having to play matches that have little bearing on the final score as has so often happened this year with so many of our indoor matches being decided before he even goes on court, lost 6-4, 6-2 which made the final score 6-3 in favor of Midd. 
Chris Frost looking about as photogenic as humanly possible.
Overall it was a great day for the team as it’s always fun to beat the defending national champions, especially when it’s Williams. However, we had little time to rest on our laurels as we hopped in the vans right after the match to head south towards Wesleyan and Trinity.
Hi Allen!
After a rainy Friday we woke up Saturday morning to the nicest day of the year. The sun was shining strong on the Wesleyan courts and the boys were happy to soak in some much needed vitamin D. Panthers typically do not enjoy the heat, but as we’ve been preaching to this group of panthers all year, we’re a special breed. We came out strong in doubles winning #1 doubles 8-5 and #2 doubles 8-4. At the #3 spot Midd once again struggled to break and though the boys did a phenomenal job holding they got broken in the first game at 0-0 and could never get it back. In singles the Panthers dominated the bottom of the singles lineup winning 3 through 6 with relative ease. Zach Bruchmiller even got in on the fun rolling at the #7 position. 
Team meeting after doubles. 
As often happens in matches where it seems like it’s not a matter of if but more a matter of when you’re going to clinch, the question becomes who will clinch. Sir Mountifield had the honors on Saturday as rebounded from a tough loss at Williams for a 6-2, 6-1 win at the #5 position. #3, #4, and #6 took care of business as well with the close matches occurring at the #1 and #2 spots where Johno and Palmer each battled with a pair of talented Wesleyan freshman. Johno was able to pull away with a solid 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 win while Palmer couldn’t quite come back from a 9-2 third set super tiebreak deficit and lost 7-6(4), 1-6, 10-8. Nonetheless another solid win from the Panthers as they beat an emerging NESCAC foe 7-2. After the victory we were lucky enough to eat a wonderful Hibachi Japanese dinner courteous of Chris’s father Mark and Courtney’s parents Anita and Sean.
Frons doing what he does.
That is being slightly awkward but extremely effective.
After two days of challenging tennis it’s always interesting to see how the boys will fare when they’re a little tired and a little banged up. We also knew we were going to have to bring our ‘A’ game because the Trinity team we were set to face off against is very talented. However, as any knowledgeable zookeeper will tell you, the only thing scarier than a panther is a hungry, tired, and beat up panther. At #4 doubles James Burke and Chris Frost got the ball rolling with a nice 8-5 win.
Coach Charles soothes nerves with a special touch.
Next off was #1 doubles where Johno and Lebo won 8-5. #3 doubles managed to break at just the right time to even the match at 6-6 but was unable to keep it on the tracks as they fell 8-6 to make the match score 1-1. At #2 doubles Palmer and Brantner found themselves in an unfamiliar position down a break 6-7. Coach McConnell, who optimism could be mistaken for naivety, once again was confident a victory was coming. Even down match point 7-6, 40-30 Coach McConnell went as far as to guarantee a victory. And in some sort of prophetic way, a victory came. After some unbelievable tennis by Brantner, Midd broke back before both teams held for a tiebreak. In the breaker ‘B-Jones’ and ‘P-Dog’ came alive dominating for a 9-8(2) win. In singles we turned in our most complete singles performance to date only dropping a single set and winning all 6 matches for an 8-1 victory.
Courtney dialed it in as the week went on and posted a dominating 6-4, 6-1 on Saturday and 6-2, 6-1 on Sunday.
All in all the coaches where thrilled with our performance this weekend. More than just winning all three of our matches, we’re even more happy with the continued growth of individual player’s games and the growth of our team’s collective belief. If we continue to put together quality practices and matches as we’ve been doing in the past few months there’s no limit to how far this team can go. And once again we could not be more thankful for all the support from the parents. This week we saw the Lebovitzs, the Smolyars, the Burkes, the Mountifields, and the Frosts. It seems like no matter where we go we have a fan club of at least 10 parents, which is just awesome.
Brantner went 6-0 on the weekend and also earned divsion3tennis.com Northeast player of the week honors.
This Saturday we look forward to playing two challenging matches. In the morning we’ll face off against Bowdoin and in the afternoon we play RPI. In addition to the tennis we will also honor our seniors this Saturday with a wonderful reception after the matches. If you’re interested in attending and haven’t spoken to Bob please shoot him an e-mail as soon as you can.

-Coaches Hansen, Sabel, and McConnell  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spring Break 2014

Spring break 2014 has officially commenced after a grinding 8 matches in 8 days. Our trip began two Saturdays ago, March 22nd, with an early morning flight down to Atlanta, Georgia. We arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson International without a hitch and coaches Bob and Max went to pick up the rental cars. Seeing as this year's team has no freshman, Coach Hansen opted to step up and make the trip's first 'mental error' when he accidentally forget his carry on bag on the plane. After some hard work by Midd's finest utility man Teddy Fitzgibbons the bag was retrieved and the Panthers were on their way. This brief anecdote confirms the age old idiom that even a zen master makes a mistake every once in a while. After a quick drive to Emory University our boys got to hit on outdoor courts for the first time in months and it was clear that while we looked sharp, it would take a few days before we really felt comfortable outdoors.
Ready to rumble in Atlanta.
However, comfortable or not day two of the trip provided our first competitive matches as we squared off against Ogelthrope University in the morning and University of the South in the afternoon. Against the Storming Petrels (Oglethrope's mascot) Midd swept doubles and shut the door quickly in singles play dropping only 8 total games in the 6 singles matches.
Frost using his acrobatic ability to roll versus Oglethrope.
Though it seems impossible that he won this particular point. 
Bruchmiller's still got it!
In the afternoon match the Panther's took a 2-1 lead in doubles before dominating the bottom half of the singles for a 7-2 victory. The highlight of day two was undoubtedly the great depth we once again showed. We were able to play two completely different singles lineups and only dropped one match. Versus University of the South Zach Bruchmiller won 6-1, 6-1 at the #4 spot, Allen Jackson (who also grabbed a win in the morning match) won 6-2, 6-4 and the #5 position, and doubles specialist Andrew Lebovitz showcased his versatility clipping his opponent 6-2, 6-2. Knowing we have such depth gives us the confidence to play a variety of players in matches and also ensures every player pushes one another in practice. 
Coach Chuck McConnell met us down in Atlanta and will be with the Panthers the rest of the season.
Johno loading the Howitzer.
One day three the Panthers hopped in the vans and drove an hour and half northwest to Rome, Georgia where we took the courts against a talented Division II opponent in Shorter College. Andrew Lebovitz and Alex Johnston produced what was the first of several brilliant doubles performances taking down a strong French duo at the #1 position. #2 doubles started slow and were unable to claw back into the match while the new team of Ari Smolyar and Peter Heidrich won 8-0 at the #3 position. In singles Middlebury was once again dominant at the bottom of the singles lineup (note this ongoing trend) highlighted by a dominating 6-2, 6-0 win by Jack Welch at the #6 position. Midd also picked 
up wins at the 2, 3, 4, and 5 spots for a 7-2 win.
Welch working the chip n' charge. A new play in his ever expanding arsenal.
Brantner was not thrilled with his play early in the doubles versus Shorter
Allen Jackson holding his finish.
Doesn't that bear have one too many claws?
Day four provided the season's first true test when the Panther's faced emerging NAIA powerhouse Gerogia Gwinett College. To give you an idea of the level of Georgia Gwinett, their #2 singles player has a career high ATP ranking of 650. Once again our #1 doubles team played incredible tennis and battled back from a 0-4 deficit to win 8-6. In singles we won first sets at #4, #5, and #6 and also served for the first at #3. However, we were only to come away with #5 singles as Smolyar defeated the older (and slightly tubbier) brother of Gwinett's #1 player. Given the level of competition and the howling winds the coaches were happy with how hard our guys competed at every spot. 
Pete doing Pete things.
Bob and Max carefully observe.
On Wednesday, the fifth day of the spring break campaign, we faced Georgia Perimeter College, one of the better junior colleges in the country, in what was Middlebury's last tune up match before Division III play began on Friday. We took a 3-0 lead in doubles and were also victorious at the #4 doubles position. A spot Chris Frost and James Burke went an impressive 4-0 throughout the trip. Their strong play was highlighted by an 8-0 win versus Kenyon and 8-5 win versus Emory. In singles play we were yet again dominant at the bottom of the lineup and solid at the top where we won 5 of 6 singles for a 7-2 win.
James Burke deep in thought, likely pondering which opponent he will dismantle next.
Ted enjoying the off day.
Thursday was an off day where the team sharpened some skills on the court, rested up, and off course hit up the Nike outlets. The boys also engaged in several heated games of Uno throughout the trip and the off day was no exception. While no official tally was kept, it's thought Courtney Mountifield was the overall Uno champion. The highlight of the day was an incredible dinner at a local country club thanks to the generosity of Allen Jackson, Sr. We ate like kings and fantasized about the next three days where we were set to face off against #9 Kenyon, #7 Emory, and a tough North Carolina Wesleyan team.

Thank you Allen Jackson, Sr (back left talking to Bob) for the incredible dinner!
Also notice Brantner piling up everyone's phones in the middle of the table. It's quickly becoming a tradition for all team members to put their phones on airplane mode and stack them in the middle of the table during meals.
Bruchmiller visualizing pre-match.
Friday afternoon the rain came down so we were sent to the indoor facility at Emory University, while the courts are a bit slower than the courts in our beautiful Nelson Arena, the team still felt very comfortable indoors and it showed. We swept doubles, a real challenge against a team as strong as Kenyon, and while we weren't quite as strong in singles we still managed to take 4 of 6 for a 7-2 win. Alex Johnston played a beautiful singles and made a very strong Kenyon player look lost on court. Brantner Jones also got in on the fun and after dropping a set did what he does best and came back to win the next two against a player currently ranked #4 in the country in singles.
Ari was undefeated in singles play during he week. He didn't even drop a set while going 8-0.
Introductions versus Emory.
Per usual, Lebo brought the energy.
Our match on Saturday versus Emory University was the match we'd been looking forward to for quite some time and it was an absolute war. Billed by division3tennis.com as the match of the week it undoubtedly lived up to expectations. The match started outdoors but early on in the doubles sets the rain came down and we were pushed inside. As soon as the matches resumed indoors the momentum swing in the favor of Middlebury as we quickly picked up breaks on all 3 courts. However, as often happens in doubles, the momentum soon swung back in the direction of Emory and they broke back on 3 to make it 7-7, picked up a double break on 2 to serve for it 8-7, and broke back on 1 to tie it at 7-7. After holds by both teams at #1 the Panther duo of Johnston and Lebovitz caught fire and ran off 7 straight points in the tiebreak for a 9-8(0) win at #1 to put Midd up 1-0. Emory tied it 1-1 at #3 doubles where Midd was broken in a grueling game at 7-8 to lose 7-9. At #2 Palmer Campbell and Brantner Jones broke back down 7-8 and were able to pull out the tiebreak 7-4 to give Midd a 2-1 lead heading into singles.
Palmer and B-Jones came up big in doubles where they still haven't lost a match to a Division III opponent this spring.
Court battled all week against some talented players.
Because Emory only has 4 indoor courts 1-4 singles where the first on and despite battling Middlebury dropped all 4 first sets, 6-7(0), 5-7, 6-7(4), and 4-6, respectively. #1 and #2 singles were the first off and not more than an hour and half after being up 2-1 Midd was down 2-3 and in a hole at #3 and #4 singles. Smolyar and Frons quickly hopped on court and raced to identical 7-6(7) first set leads at 5 and 6 singles. At 3 and 4 singles Brantner and Courtney each played brilliant second sets to push each match to the decisive third. Despite unbelievably strong tennis by Brantner his opponent was able to come away with the victory winning match point on a let cord winner. Call me biased, but without that let cord I think still think Brantner pulls that one out. At 4 singles Courtney lost a tough 3rd set 4-6 which gave Emory the 5-2 clinch. Not long after Emory won the match Smolyar and Frons each picked up wins to the make the final 5-4. And while we hate to lose we learned a lot of valuable things throughout this match and we feel confident that if we get back to the practice courts and tighten up a few loose ends this match goes the other way next time.
Panthers hanging tough after a brutal loss. 
The Panthers wrapped up their trip Sunday morning with a 7-2 victory over North Carolina Wesleyan. Our #2 doubles team of Campbell and Jones didn't start well but did a good enough job of scrapping together a 8-6 victory to remain undefeated in Division III play this year. Zach Bruchmiller stepped in at #6 singles and after finding himself down 1-4 in the first set, won 12 of the next 15 games for a 7-5, 6-2 win. After the match we ran to the hotel for a quick shower, grabbed some Steak-N-Shake (Bob's favorite place for some peculiar reason) and went to the airport for a easy direct flight back to Burlington.
The LaZe man.
All in all this was a wonderful trip for the team. We were able to get all of our players a lot of competitive matches and get a really clear idea of where we are as a team and what we need to work on. Most of all we want to thank the parents for their incredible support throughout the trip. Every single match we had a glut of of snacks and great vocal support. Special thanks to the Frons', Brian for his great match photos (many of which were used in this blog post), and Jeanine for keeping Jackson in line.
Jeanine, Jackson, and Brian Frons. 
Suzanne Smolyar for some great photos later in the week (which we also used a few of). The Jackson's for the wonderful dinner on Thursday night. John and Lisa Campbell for making sure Palmer was as fresh as could be. Jackie Welch who saw Jack grab a dual match point versus Shorter.
Jack with his mom and little sister.
The Lebovitz's for contributing to stellar snack selection. Kenneth Jones who was watching Brantner play for the first time in a while and surely contributed to his excellent showing versus Emory. The Frost's who saw Chris kill it in doubles. And last but not least Anita Mountifield for helping the superstitious Courtney maintain his ever changing arsenal of rituals. 
Teddy, Bruch, James, and Brantner catching some rays.
Bonus stache' pic. 
-Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles