Monday, May 12, 2014

Elite 8!

Last week after a tough loss to Amherst in the NESCAC tournament finals we said we had learned a valuable lesson. Part one of the lesson was that getting swept, or even losing the doubles point, makes winning much more challenging. Part two was that doubles point or no doubles point we can battle at all six singles position. And a day after quickly dispatching Babson College in the round of 32, the Midd Panthers applied said lessons in a brilliant match against defending NCAA Champion Williams College.
Sweet 16 introductions!

Lebo hasn't missed a half volley since 1800.
Coincidentally, the same year Middlebury was founded.
Going into doubles confidence was high as we were familiar with our opponents and the collective feeling was that if we played with the right mix of aggression, resiliency, and composure the chips would fall our way. However, at #1 doubles the senior duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz weren't content with hoping the chips would fall their way, they were counting cards to ensure it. Johno started it off with a hold at love, only to be followed up by a Panther break at love. Five points later Lebo had held and after winning 12 of the first 13 points the Panther's had a 3-0 lead. At two doubles things were decidedly more choppy for the team of Brantner Jones and Palmer Campbell as they were broken early to go down 1-2. They battled back to regain the break at 5-5 only to be broken again on the very next game to go down 5-6. The #3 doubles tandem of Ari Smolyar and Peter Heidrich were in a similar position. They went down a break early, regained the break and were then broken right back for a 5-6 hole.

The Midd supporters were out in droves on Saturday.
14 Strong! Post doubles team huddle.
First off were #1 doubles, who had stopped winning every game and were instead just winning most, with an 8-3 victory that put the Panther's up 1-0. Next off was #3 who never really got back on track after the early break and subsequently fell 8-6. Not long after #3 came off the #2 team lost by a matching 8-6 score and Panthers found themselves down after doubles for only the second time all season. The question quickly became would the Panther's take a lesson from last weekend's loss and rally behind strong singles play or forgo the the aforementioned learning experience and stumble.
The LaZe man.
Singles started off close with only perennial superstar Brantner Jones running away with a first set 6-1. Yet, despite the margin in the first sets being very slim the Panthers flexed their muscles and somehow won all six of them. At #1 singles Johno won the first 6-3, as mentioned Brantner won 6-1 at #2, Palmer grabbed his first 7-5, at #4 Ari won 7-5, at #5 Courtney won 7-6(2), and at #6 Frons went up 6-4. Taking all 6 sets against any top 30 team is a real challenge and to do so against a team as strong as Williams showed what heart this Panther squad has. B-Jones followed up his dominating first set with a workmen like second and finished off the match with a 6-1, 6-4 win that knotted the overall score at 2 apiece. Shortly thereafter Palmer finished off his second set, which was decidedly less close than the first, and grabbed the third point for the Panthers with a 7-5, 6-2 victory.
Brantner with the slick-back hair. 
Courtney, ever so politely, telling the Williams coach to mind his own business.
Though Midd had clearly swung the momentum in our direction the work was far form done as Williams had dug in at #1 and #6 and taken second sets by identical 6-3 scores. At #4 and #5 Midd was up a break in both second sets by the going was tough. Eventually Ari Smolyar managed to seal the deal and bring home the fourth point for Midd with a 7-5, 6-3 win. And as Alex and Jackson both began their third sets the man of the hour Courtney Mountifield made sure he was the one to end the match winning the second and clinching his match as well as the match for Midd with a 7-6(2), 6-3 win.
Smolyar grinding!

Bruchmiller approves.
With the victory the Panther's advance to the Elight 8 in Claremont, California. Play begins on Monday, May 19th when the Panther's will face a talented Case Western team. The Midd migration will begin Friday with the team heading out a few days early to ensure we're properly adjusted to the heat as well as the outdoor conditions. In addition to the team qualifying for the tournament we were also pleased to learn that Alex Johnston qualified for the NCAA Individual tournament in singles while Alex and Lebo qualified for the tournament in doubles. Brantner is the first alternate in singles so here's to hoping someone has to withdraw from the tournament for the most benign reason possible. Wish us luck as we head west with the goal of winning the 2014 NCAA National Championship creeping closer and closer.
We're headed to Claremont! Elite 8 on Monday the 19th versus Case Western
Seniors celebrate their second straight trip to the final 8. 
-Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles