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


  1. Enjoyed every minute of being with all of you, parents, players & coaches - GO MIDD!!!!!

  2. Haha what an enjoyable read...Go Midd!