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  

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