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

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