Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Final Four!

The Midd mens tennis team marched one step closer to the 2014 NCAA National Championship with a convincing 5-1 quarterfinal victory over a talented Case Western Reserve University team. Before I give you my commentary please enjoy this brilliant video produced by Alex Johnston and Teddy Fitzgibbons (is there anything this guy can't do?)

The final leg of what has been a journey that started many years ago for some began on Friday when the team boarded plane for Claremont, California. We landed in the early afternoon and sped off towards Whittier College to hit a few tennis balls in the California sun. Playing out here is a bit different from playing in Vermont. The heat, of course is a factor, but the air is also thinner so the ball tends to sail on you and the courts, particularly the tournament courts in Claremont, tend to play a bit slower. Nonetheless we adjusted nicely and had an impressive and confidence building day one.
The beautiful courts at Whittier College, site of day one's hit.
Johno, Frons, and Courtney soak in some rays with Whittier head coach Ben Belletto.
Kids and their phones these days.
On Saturday we had a noon hit on the courts at Pomona College as you're only allowed to play on the tournament courts one day before the tournament. Our boys looked sharper than they had the day before and the coaching staff was feeling confident that the pieces were beginning to come together. Later in the evening we had a lovely dinner thanks to the omnipresent Frons family.

On Sunday we had a 9 A.M. hit on the Claremont courts where would be playing our match in exactly 24 hours. These courts, more so than pretty much any hard courts you'll ever play on, are slow and gritty. When the ball bounces it almost holds on the surface and that explodes off with whatever spin you put on the ball being slightly exacerbated. Though again, as the Panthers have done all season whether the tennis has been indoors on sports courts or outdoors in the misting rain, we adjusted just fine and looked like a team ready to play for a title.

Visualization after our hit on Sunday.
On Monday it was a game time. We knew the Case Western team we were about to play was fiery and thrived on energy so a quick start was key, and we certainly got that. The #3 doubles tandem of Ari Smolyar and Peter Heidrich started out with a beautiful break where they cracked 5 quality returns and won 4 of the points. Branter Jones and Palmer Campbell were quick to follow and after a marathon game they broke to go up 2-1. 
With B-Jones firm handshake and Palmer's giddy excitement these two present quite the dichotomy to opposing coaches.
Bobby thinking, "Schools about to be in session."
Back at #3 the route was on before the Spartans even know what had hit them. After a gritty hold by Pete Heidrich to take the match to 2-0, the Panthers broke again and when the #1 and #2 matches were still in their infancy Pete and Ari were up 7-1. At #1 doubles the Panther duo of Alex Johnston and Andrew Lebovitz where in a war. 
Bob surely offering some sage advice.
The man of the hour. Andrew 'Alpha' Lebovitz.
Down a break 4-6 Johno and Lebo played a lights out game and got the break back and consolidated it with a hold to even the match at 6-6. As Johno and Lebo evened the match the #2 team of B-Jones and P-Dawg won 8-3 for a dominating victory against a tough team. The #2's win pushed the dual match score to 2-0 as Ari and Peter had won several eons ago. At 7-7 Lebo played one of the better return games of the year but the boys couldn't quite get the break and the match was pushed to a tiebreak. But fear not as Lebo seemed to have entered the much talked about, but seldom visited athletic 'Zone'. The guy could not miss and insisted on hitting every ball, be it a return or volley, 100 miles per hour and 1 inch above the tape. On serve 4-5 Lebo put in two smart first serves to put the Panthers up 6-5. Johno, who had been frustrated with his returns when the team couldn't capitalize at 7-7, laced a backhand and after a bit scurrying Johno put down a volley for a 9-8(5) victory and a Panther 3-0 doubles sweep.
The duo of destruction.
Post doubles sweep excitement! Though everyone knows you still need 2 more points.
The Panthers keep the momentum going in singles winning 4 first sets and putting the squeeze on from many directions. At #6 singles Jackson Frons, happy to be back in his home state, played a brilliant match against a testy serve and volleyer and was first off with a 6-4, 6-2 victory that put the Panthers up 4-0.
Frons after a quick day at the office.
Our resident acrobat.
P-dawg was well on his way to a win after one his more solid matches of the year.
The search for the fifth point came down to #1, #2, #3 singles who were up (6-1, 6-5), (6-2, 6-5), and (6-3, 5-3), respectively. Johno, whose parents and brother traveled all the way from England to watch the big Brit play, opted to take the clinch and after his victory that gave Midd the 5-1 win, fired a ball to a different stratosphere in celebration.
Post-match meeting.

With the win Midd moves on to the semifinals, to played in just a few hours, against the #1 ranked team of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. There is live video as well as some interesting commentary on http://www.ncaa.com/liveschedule so tune if you have some free time. Wish us luck and we'll get back to you tomorrow, hopefully with a pre-championship match post!

A little bonus media as here's a post match interview with Bob and Johno courtesy of CMS athletics.


-Coaches Bob, Max, and Charles