Thursday, May 28, 2015

NCAA Tournament Wrap-up

Captains plus Will
The 2015 season is officially in the history books. This season was special to everyone on multiple levels, and even though we were disappointed by the loss in the NCAA Team Championship match, no Panther kept his tail between his legs for long because there were so many high points during our journey to this match.

Since I'm sure most have been following our results in Cincinnati closely, I'll highlight some lesser-known points of the championships. I'll start this post in the way that I end most posts, by dishing out kudos, as they are well deserved.

What an effort by our guys! They put so much passion into the tournament both with their preparation and their play. To put that much mentally and emotionally into accomplishing a goal shows amazing fortitude and thus the first, and most important, kudos go out to every member of the team for their passion and commitment.

Banger Bros! 
A large recognition goes out to all the guys who didn't see the court while in Cincinnati but were with us every step of the way pushing everyone to the peak of their abilities. Weather it was tweeting about our results, offering valuable input during team meetings, or being at every practice with a racket in hand ready to jump in, everyone played a big part in this year's success.

The parents who made the trip and those that supported us along the way are greatly appreciated and all your help, including the fantastic dinner Wednesday night, contributed greatly to our success and enjoyment.

Now for some match specific acknowledgements:

We mounted a very impressive doubles sweep in the quarterfinals, on indoor courts, against, dare I say it, the National Indoor Tournament Champions. Yes folks, they were crowned the top indoor team in the country this year and we came out and put a 3-0 sweep on them in the doubles. After doubles, Jackson and Will would seal the match 5-0 for us. Speaking of Jackson Frons, what on earth did he eat for breakfast before both this match and the semifinal match against Chicago? I kid you not, Jackson came out in both matches swinging at forehands and moving like Marat Safin. And we all know he's got the looks to match!
Bring in the Secret Weapon

Additionally, Will logged two impressive wins at the 5 spot against Trinity and Chicago. Will's game really blossomed this spring and these two victories are a testament to his efforts.

In the final match against Claremont, we came in ready for the moment and well prepared. We weren't overwhelmed at the opportunity before us or suffering from a lack of belief. We came out to play hard but simply ran into a team that was too good for us on that day. Hats off to Claremont for wielding an impressive team and a strong effort.

We're extremely proud of our guys for their openness to take on the challenge of aiming to win it all, but at the same time, staying grounded on the special season we had despite coming up just short.
Before leaving Midd for the tournament, guys offered up these season highlights:

-Regaining the NESCAC crown.
-Edging Emory in what many would call the DIII match of the year.
-Coming away with “The Thriller in Redlands” match.
-Ari winning three of four fall events and being the top ranked player in our region.
-Noah being named the NESCAC Rookie of the Year
-Defeating Bowdoin a third time to claim the NCAA Regional Title

Power doubles players
Also, congratulations to Peter and Palmer for reaching the semifinals of the individual doubles draw. They notched an impressive win in the first round against a talented Mary Washington team, and an even more impressive win against the top duo from Wash U on stadium court. Particularly in their second round win, Peter and Palmer played at a level previously unseen by Bob and myself. Palmer, again and again, made plays on the ball that resembled LeBron James driving to the hoop. On several occasions through out the match, Bob and I looked at each other thinking 'where did Palmer learn to ball like that!?'

Before I sign off for the summer, please enjoy the following pictures showing the adventures of Midd Tennis!


Your 2015 NCAA Doubles Semi-finalists

Taking names

Yes Mr. President, the Panthers are in the finals.

Año de la M grande
All women's matches were suspended during the taking of this photo
Battle meeting

The mothers of M Tennis, thank you!

Road to glory

Semi-final vs. Chicago

Passion and grit

Mike Tyson

Big M's = Big friends

The Midd Tennis entourage 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tournament time!

Middlebury men’s tennis opened its bid for the 2015 NCAA title by hosting the first two rounds of the tournament here in Middlebury on Saturday and Sunday. The week of practice leading up to the tournament was focused, and on Friday we held a team meeting where we shared our appreciation for the program we all help to build and constantly refine; hearing everyone’s words was special in reinforcing that we are all contributing to create something we cherish.

Big M's all around

Despite the uplifting meeting, we suffered a setback when Ari badly sprained his ankle during the practice following the meeting. When Sue, the trainer, arrived on site with a golf cart to wheel Ari away, things did not look good for our number one singles player. Sue, after examining the ankle, said there was no way Ari would be playing on Sunday, the day we would most likely find ourselves up against Bowdoin for the chance to move on to the final site. However, there was one thing Sue the trainer didn’t take into consideration: THIS IS ARI SMOLYAR WE’RE TALKING ABOUT. Ari isn’t a human being- Ari comes from a planet deep in outer space where injuries simply don’t exist. As Ari would say, "I JUST DON'T GET INJURED!"

Midd handled a Nichols team that had a dream season in winning their conference for the first time and beating Ramapo in the first round. However, we proved too tough for the unranked squad.

This win set up the clash with Bowdoin we’ve been preparing for since the NCAA bracket was published a week ago. A large part of our training is making sure we’re fully prepared to mentally confront the challenges ahead of us. We spent significant time meeting before practice to visualize playing our style of confident tennis against Bowdoin.
Jack finding the heavy spot 

We began the match with wins at #1 and #2 doubles. Peter and Palmer stayed even with their opponents before pulling away late. This is something we’ve talked about- the best doubles teams in the world play a close set and then consistently raise their level when the time is right. Palmer's volley game has hit new levels and Peter's competitive mindset are only two of many highlights this duo brings to the court.

Ari and Noah also played a tightly contested match until Noah shifted into high gear, making some very impressive moves at the net to push their match in favor of the Panthers. Chris and Will competed hard but were outplayed this time by a tough 3rd team from Bowdoin. Not to spoil the suspense, but Will would have his revenge later in the match.

Singles got underway with Jackson and Kyle facing opponents who were playing their “A” games and had their backs up against the wall from the start. Kyle has performed wonderfully since making his debut in the singles and, as his game continues to grow, we’re confident he can win a match like that. 3-2 in favor of Bowdoin!

Home sweet home
Ari came up with a fantastic performance in beating Bowdoin’s top player in straight sets to even the match at 3-3. What an incredible effort on an ankle that was black, blue, and twisted up by the finish. This performance by Ari will surely go down in Panther folk-lore to be passed down for years to come.

Will, Noah, and Palmer each traded blows with their opponents before Noah beat Bowdoin’s #2 player, Noah Bragg, for the 3rd time this season. This matchup has become a personal favorite of mine to watch as each player specializes in speed and shot making ability which makes for one continuous highlight reel and, fortunately for Midd, Noah F just does it a bit better. Midd up 4-3.

Not long after Noah’s win, Will sealed the match with one of the most dominating service holds I’ve seen. He hit two forehand winners, which were set up by well-placed first serves. An unreturned serve set up match point, and Will ended the match with an overhead smash over the fence which Bob casually caught while watching from the top bank of courts. Game, set, match, Midd.

Will elevating when it matters
What was even more impressive than Will’s final service game, was his enthusiastic lunge stanced 3 pull lawnmower fist pump to celebrate. Will has committed himself to visualizing closing out pressure matches efficiently, and it’s no doubt his off-court efforts helped him here.

We are now in our final week of practice before our quarterfinal match against Trinity of Texas on Monday. This morning we logged our final morning conditioning session of the season; we ended the season long bi weekly workouts in true Panther fashion by attacking a challenging workout.

Stay tuned and follow us through each of our matches in Ohio as we aim for the ultimate pot of gold. Our group is growing more determined every day and, as coaches, it’s a joy to see our group peaking at just the right time.

*Year of the Big M*

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

NESCAC Roundup

Sports fans poured in to Middlebury last weekend, booking up all hotels from Burlington to Rutland for what was being called a NESCAC tournament for the ages. Bookies in town placed pre-tournament odds heavy in Amherst’s corner after their domination of the regular season, and their 9-0 drubbing of us the weekend before. Pre-tournament drama escalated as our conference was so deep this season that the tournament committee was forced to split hairs in deciding to take 19th ranked Trinity or 21st ranked Bates. After 3 days of debate, official protests, and conference calls, the nod was given to Trinity and the field was finally set.

Before we go any further, it must be noted what an important role the Middlebury parents had in making the weekend feel incredibly special. For each match, they filled two tables with fruit, finger foods, and drinks. And following both match victories, they fed the team with catered pasta from Castello’s and Noonies sandwiches. Absolutely amazing! Thank you, Middlebury parents, for all you do for us, this journey wouldn’t be the same without you.

Saturday had us first match on against Bowdoin, a team who we beat several weeks prior, but who didn’t show us their best stuff. This time, however, they were locked in and had things looking close after we went up 2-1 in doubles but were beaten in 4 first sets in the singles. Hats off to Ari, Noah, and Palmer for fighting hard to keep our NESCAC title hopes alive.

Later that day, Williams played an unbelievable match to take down Amherst and set up an unpredicted Midd-Williams final for Sunday. This match really shows how it’s not about who is better on paper, but rather who shows up to play.

Sunday’s final against Williams was a good old fashioned cowboy vs indian western battle. We ran out to a 3-0 lead, and Jackson won at 4 to put us up to 4-0. But Williams brought in the welcoming committee and took matches at 5 and 2 and each of the remaining matches were closer than a gun slinging dual during the gold rush. Kyle, who was making his debut at 6 singles, competed and adjusted his game to meet the demands of the situation. He found himself up a set and serving 6-5 when Palmer sealed the deal for us. In front of a crowd that was on the edge of their seats, Palmer served for the match, and on the final point the crowd of mostly Midd girls, watched so closely and intensely you could hear a plate drop at Ross dining hall. Palmer snapped a passing shot and threw his arms up in joy as the crowd went wild and his teammates flooded the court.

Next up is the first and second rounds of NCAA’s hosted here at Middlebury.

We are where we are because of everyone’s efforts on this team, not only because of the play of our starters. Every player brings great meaning to this program and serves as the fabric for the wonderful Middlebury tennis culture. Very important kudos go out to Charlie, Courtney, Hamid, and Jack. Without their enthusiasm we would no doubt be a different team.

Please follow us through the NCAA tournament.