Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Introducing the 2018 NCAA National Champion Middlebury Panthers (25-4)

What a way to end an incredible journey this season as the 2018 NCAA National Champions! The coaching staff would first like to say how privileged we felt to share this year with an incredible group of young men who poured their hearts and efforts into each and every training session and match all year long. Overcoming many obstacles along the way (e.g., injuries to some of our top players), it was not always an easy ride nor was it a flawless year. However, our resilience carried the day and we proved that we could beat the best teams in the country on the biggest stage when it mattered the most! 

Senior captain William de Quant '18 spoke to our group about
being a family and how winning it together is what made it special!
Before providing brief summaries and links to full recaps of our championship run, the coaching staff wants to highlight a few noteworthy points. Every player in our singles lineup posted a win, or was winning when the match was halted, in either the semifinal or final matches. In doubles, each pair posted a victory for the Panthers during the Final 8 rounds. The contributions from all of our doubles and singles positions throughout the championship indicated that the strength of our team was that we could strike from any spot. Last but not least, demonstrating some incredibly high-level play in the pressure moments, the pairing of Lubomir Cuba and Kyle Schlanger both went 6-0 combined in doubles and singles play at the #1 doubles, #1 singles, and #4 singles positions.

Schlanger '18 and Cuba '19 all smiles!
Quarterfinals: Whitman Match Highlights
We started off our trip in Southern California by facing a dangerous and senior-laden team in Whitman. Setting the tone for the match, the Panthers hit first and won two out of three doubles prosets. Farrell and de Quant struck first winning 8-3, followed by Cuba and Schlanger who beat a top-ranked team from the west region, 8-5. Realizing that the Whitman team was going to come after us in singles play, we knew we needed to bring our best stuff to ensure that this match did not get complicated. After breaking from our team huddle, the Panthers got to work immediately and showed that we were not to be denied a trip to the final four. Cuba, Schlanger, and Eazor all posted straight set victories to secure the match for Middlebury and booked our ticket to the next round. Farrell, de Quant, and Xiao were all also playing well and we knew that they had bolstered their confidence in preparation for the semifinal match.

Eazor '21 lining up his forehand!

Semifinals: Emory Match Highlights
In the final four, we were matched up against the Emory Eagles. A perennial championship competitor, the Eagles had just beaten a tough Williams team in the quarterfinals and were the defending national champions from last season. Having beaten Emory 7-2 earlier in the season, their first loss of the year, we knew they were going to be ready for us and as the match started we knew right away we were in a dog fight.

Farrell '19 Ripping a backhand.
Different from our 3-0 doubles sweep earlier in the year, Emory had reshuffled their doubles lineup and came out swinging. They struck first and beat us at #2 doubles, before Cuba/Schlanger leveled the match at 1-1 with an 8-5 win. Even though we did not know it at the time, this match would be a preview to the Individuals NCAA Doubles National Final Match. Despite a hard fought come from behind effort by Martin and van der Geest, Emory also prevailed at #3 doubles. Given that doubles has been a Panther strength all season, we knew that we had our backs to the wall heading into singles play. Fortunately, our group has shown their resilience all season long and we held each other up and competed hard at every single spot in our lineup.

de Quant '18 and Farrell '19 with their patented fist pumps!
Middlebury took 5 out of 6 first sets in singles, which swung the momentum of the match in our favor. Even though the Eagles posted the first singles point at #6 singles, in the end, our singles depth prevailed for a 5-3 victory. At #5 singles, freshman Nate Eazor demonstrated his love for the big moment beating a very tough opponent in two hard fought sets 6-3, 7-6(5). At # 2 singles, Noah Farrell took out a very talented freshmen player by the score of 7-6(2), 6-1. At #4 singles, Kyle Schlanger showed his ability to stay focused and determined despite momentum swings winning by a score of 6-1, 1-6, 6-1. The clinching point came at #1 singles, with Lubomir Cuba winning match point on a serve and volley winner to post the 7-6(2), 6-3 win. At #3 singles, Will de Quant was still battling for the Panthers at 2-2 in the third when the match was stopped.    
Cuba '19 Roasting a forehand.

We knew we had escaped a tough match with an incredible come from behind performance in singles to earn our right to play in the Championship match. We were happy and exhilarated, but knew we still had one more match to win to achieve our collective goal.

Finals: Bowdoin Match Highlights
It was very fitting for the Panthers to face off against Bowdoin for a shot at the National Title. Bowdoin had beaten Middlebury two years before in this same match, and the two teams split their first two matches this season with the Panthers prevailing 8-1 in the regular season, but the Polar Bears winning 5-3 in the finals of the NESCAC tournament. Both teams knew each other well and both teams were led by ferocious senior classes that were bent on winning the whole thing in their final season. Bowdoin had won both their quarterfinal and semifinal matches by a score of 5-0 (sweeping the doubles in both) and appeared to have a lot of momentum coming into our match.

Lining up before the final showdown!
In doubles play, Martin and van der Geest bounced back in a huge way after dropping their previous two matches. They played nearly flawless doubles and won 8-3 to place the first point on the board for the Panthers in the Championship round. Bowdoin struck back winning 8-4 at #2 doubles. With the momentum hanging in the balance, Cuba and Schlanger teamed up to again play some incredibly clutch tennis against big serving opponents winning 9-8(2). Both Cuba and Schlanger hit some monster returns in the tiebreak not allowing Bowdoin to win a single point on serve in the entire tiebreak. This win gave us the 2-1 lead and momentum going into singles play, but we knew the match was far from over.

Martin '19 closing the net hard!
van der Geest '18 ready to pounce!
The Panthers pushed their 2-1 lead all the way up to 4-1 behind two gutsy wins at the top and bottom of the lineup. At #1 singles, Cuba won 6-4, 6-2 (beating the player who would end up winning the individuals title for the third time this season). At #6 singles, our freshmen Andre Xiao demonstrated poise and composure beyond his years and played some incredibly high-level tennis roaring out to a 6-1, 5-1 lead and finally clinching his match at 6-1, 6-4. The Panthers were now in prime position to strike and we only needed one more match to claim the title. However, it was not going to come easy.
Xiao '21 tracking down more balls than his opponents!
Bowdoin fought back hard at every position left. They posted their first singles point at #5 singles. The last three matches would head to third sets with #2 singles Farrell, #3 singles de Quant, and #4 singles Schlanger still out there competing for the Panthers. At this point, Schlanger had a Team Championship point to seal his match in straight sets, but a let cord and good competing by his opponent sent the match to a third set. Bowdoin would go on to win at #2 singles. De Quant ended up not completing his singles match for a third straight day, and fought off four match points in the third and final set coming from behind (3-5) to even his match at 5-5 (up 15-love) when his match was stopped. It was fitting that one of our senior leaders was still battling and fighting next to his fellow senior throughout the duration of the match.

de Quant '18 was still balling on court
at the end of every match all three days!
In the end, the match would be clinched at #4 singles. After dropping the second set, Schlanger went down 0-2 quickly and was forced to take an injury timeout to address a hip issue that he had strained the previous day. From down 1-3, and fighting off some difficulty generating any pace on his serve, Schlanger would rattle off five straight games and complete a 6-3 comeback win to the seal the National Championship for the Panthers! What a way to end it! See the winning moment below:

NCAA Highlight Video

The boys rushing the court when Schlanger clinches!
Celebrating at top speed!
Post Championship Match Interview
Check out the post-match interview of Will de Quant, Kyle Schalnger, and Bob Hansen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Do82i0anqqE&feature=youtu.be

D3 Tennis Blog Senior Tribute
The Division III tennis blog also wrote a tribute to our team’s Championship that focused on the journey of our three senior leaders: http://www.division3tennis.com/the-middlebury-journey/

de Quant '18 being hugged from all sides!
NCAA Individual Championship Highlights
With little break after playing singles and doubles matches during the team championship on three consecutive days, Cuba and Farrell would represent the Panthers in the singles draw and Schlanger/Cuba in the doubles draw. It is incredibly demanding on the body to play this much tennis on consecutive days, and it is equally challenging to have to compete after such huge emotional and celebration filled moments winning the team title the day before the individuals portion of the championship begins. The singles play proved to be too difficult for the Panthers, as both Cuba and Farrell lost to some very good competition in the first round. The coaching staff remained very proud of both of their efforts, and know that we were incredibly lucky to have these two guys creating a very scary 1-2 punch at the top of our lineup this season.

In doubles play, things could not have gone much better. Schlanger/Cuba had won 16 straight matches, and decided to go on an absolute tear over the next three days winning four straight two out of three set matches all without dropping a set. In winning the individuals NCAA Doubles Championship, they extended their run to an even 20-0 in their past 20 matches. Pretty incredible stuff!

A 20 match win streak and finishing the year
#1 in the nation is pretty impressive!
In the round of 16, they beat Trinity (TX) 6-2, 6-4. In the quarterfinals, they defeated Cal Tech 6-1, 7-6(3). In the semifinals, they beat Wabash 6-1, 6-2. In the final round, Schlanger/Cuba played their best tennis to date, defeating Emory 6-0, 6-2 (only dropping 6 points total in the first set). It is particularly impressive the way they dismantled both teams in the last two rounds of the tournament. With their momentum and confidence, it was clear that Lubo and Kyle could succeed on the doubles court at any level!

Thank You
Before signing off, the coaching staff would like to extend an immense amount of gratitude and thanks toward so many who helped us along our journey. We want to start by thanking all of the Middlebury College Athletic support staff, in particular Erin Quinn (Athletic Director), Rachel Eldredge (Team Athletic Trainer), Dain McKee (Assistant Director of Athletic Communication), Rachel Kahan (Women’s Tennis Head Coach), Rob Barr (Women’s Tennis Assistant Coach), and the entire Middlebury Women’s tennis team (finished in the Final Four this year with a bright future ahead) who were all in Southern California cheering us on.

We also want to be sure to extend a huge thanks to all of the alumni network who support and contribute to our efforts in so many ways. We always had a special feeling when you reached out to us to share in our journey this season. We even had a few alumni make the trip all the way to Southern California to watch us in person including Chris Frost, Brantner Jones, and Courtney Mountifield. There were also many parents of alumni, past coaches, and even a few UC Santa Cruz alumni who played for Bob who also made the trip and continue to be incredible supporters of our current group.

It was also spectacular that, Dave Schwarz, our former Men’s Tennis Coach at Middlebury won an NCAA Championship title a few hours after we did while coaching the CMS Women’s Tennis Team. Congrats to Coach Schwarz on a wonderful season and accomplishment!

Last but not least, we want to extend our largest vote of gratitude toward the parents of our current players! It is beyond words how much we as a coaching staff appreciate all the many things you do to support our boys at every match and every step along the way. It is our pleasure to share this season’s Championship accomplishment with all of you!

New Championship Banners
We are especially looking forward to honoring our 2018 Championship by raising a new banner in Nelson Arena, that we will place between the 2004 and 2010 Championship Banners! We also are placing an order for a second new banner to honor the doubles NCAA title by Kyle Schlanger and Lubomir Cuba because past Panthers have completely filled the original banner reserved for individual national champions!   

Thanks again for all of your support and for sharing in our journey this season!

Happy coaches!
The Middlebury Men’s Tennis Coaching Staff

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Elite 8 Bound, Panthers Win NCAA Regional (22-4)

The NCAA tournament is underway and the regional rounds have been completed. Middlebury received the overall #2 seed for the tournament, which allowed us to host our regional. We knew that with MIT and Johns Hopkins in our regional that we would have a tough match in front of us before we could punch our ticket to the final site. After we won a match versus Wilkes in the Round of 32, we then faced Johns Hopkins on Sunday at the Proctor courts. On a beautiful spring day in Middlebury with many our players’ fellow students cheering us on, we won a decisive 5-1 victory over Johns Hopkins to move on the Elite 8! The coaching staff was particularly pleased with our performance in singles as all of our players from #1 to #6 singles won their first sets and were on their way toward victory when some matches were stopped after the match reached its final conclusion.

Team Meeting Getting Dialed In Pre Match
Match Highlights

In our first match of the tournament, the Panthers got out to a strong lead and never looked back against Wilkes. Cuba/Schlanger, Farrell/de Quant, and van der Geest/Martin won their doubles matches via 8-4, 8-0, and 8-1 scores respectively. Schlanger and Xiao were the first two Panthers to secure a singles victory in straight sets, completing a 5-0 decision in favor of the Panthers and providing us with solid momentum heading into a match against a dangerous Johns Hopkins team, that just beat a talented MIT team on Saturday.

The Boys Looking Sharp on Match Day!
At the outset of the match, the Panthers found themselves in a battle on all 3 doubles courts about halfway through. However, our guys kept digging in and kept competing the whole way. Martin and van der Geest got the first Panther point on the board with an 8-4 victory, as the pair continues to excel in postseason play! De Quant and Farrell fought hard, but could not quite complete a comeback and dropped a 9-7 decision at #2 doubles. Schlanger and Cuba continued to find a way to get a point on the board in another close doubles set with a 9-7 final result giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead and some momentum heading into singles play.

Martin '19 knifing a backhand slice!
Realizing that Johns Hopkins was not going to be an easy match in any respect after the tightly contested doubles matches, the Panthers knew they needed to bring their best level to the singles play, and come to play the Panthers did! Winning first sets on all courts and demonstrating our ability to be rock solid at every spot in the lineup, the Panthers thrived on the Proctor courts on a sunny spring day in front of their home fans. Nate Eazor and Andre Xiao, our dynamic freshmen duo at the bottom of the lineup both finished their matches in straight sets and seem to be playing some of their best tennis. Will de Quant also completed his match in straight sets. With a 5-1 victory, the Panthers booked themselves a spot in the Elite 8. The full match recaps can be seen at the links below. 

de Quant '18 Serving in Front of A Great Home Crowd!

Wilkes Match Recap:
Johns Hopkins Match Recap:

NCAA Tournament Elite 8

The final site for this year’s NCAA tournament is at CMS in Claremont, CA. We now have a total of three matches in which we need to be victorious to achieve our aim of winning the national title. It will be a fun challenge and one our guys are really looking forward to tackling. We are training hard, and also studying hard, as our guys are in the midst of final exam week as we prepare to travel to Southern California. Despite this tough balance, our guys have demonstrated that they have mastered the art of how to perform well in both the classroom and on the courts simultaneously. 

Eazor '21 getting ready to rip his patented forehand!

Xiao '21 getting low for a backhand!

Live Video and Scoring Link

Live video, live scoring, and tournament updates for the NCAA final rounds will be found at this link: http://cmsathletics.org/sports/18tennis/Men-s_Championship


Date                Time               Opponent                               Location

5/21                 12pm               Whitman, NCAA ¼ final        Claremont, CA

5/22                 11am               NCAA Semifinal                    Claremont, CA

5/23                 11am               NCAA Final                           Claremont, CA

5/24-5/26         TBD                NCAA Individuals                  Claremont, CA

It’s time! Go Midd!

The Middlebury Men’s Tennis Coach Staff