Leung Defends ITA Singles Title, Men’s Team Impresses

By Tom Clayton

Lok-Sze Leung ’15 defeated Middlebury teammate Ria Gerger ’16 6-0, 6-0 to repeat as ITA New England Regional Champion on Sunday, Sept. 30 at MIT. Leung will advance to the ITA National Championship later in the fall.

In her ITA debut, Gerger won her first three matches in straight sets and defeated a challenger from Williams in the semifinal, before succumbing to her friend and teammate in the championship match.

The singles bracket featured 64 women from 21 schools across the region, including every NESCAC school. The New England region is one of the strongest in the country, and the ITA regional event is the seminal regional tournament of the fall season.

As the weekend wore on and the field of 64 was winnowed down to two, it was Gerger, the 6th seed, and first-seeded Leung  who were left on the championship court.
In the biggest match of her young collegiate career, Gerger had the double misfortune of playing the reigning singles champion and of competing against her friend.

“She is an intimidating opponent, and it is always hard to play a teammate,” said Gerger.

For Gerger, reaching the finals in her first fall at Middlebury was an achievement in itself. The hard-serving freshman earned the respect of the field when she defeated the bracket’s second seed and eventual doubles bracket champion Kara Shoemaker of Williams in the quarterfinal, clearing a path to the final. But from the first point of Sunday’s last match, Leung had the edge.

“She came onto the court with the correct mentality,” said Gerger. “I came on the court passive and submissive.”

Leung, who dropped just 17 games over six matches, won the final handily.

“During the match I tried extremely hard to imagine Ria as just another opponent that I play,” Leung said, “and I approached the match point by point regardless of the score, who my opponent is, what year she is in or which school she is from.”

Both players navigated a deep and talented pool of the region’s top players. Leung’s clear-headed approach paid dividends in the final, as it has done for her in the past. Gerger had the opportunity to learn from the best player in the country.

Competing against a teammate can pose unexpected psychological challenges. Again, Leung had the advantage. In last year’s Regional, she defeated Leah Kepping ’13 in the semifinal. This year it was Gerger’s turn to gain valuable experience and to test her teammate.

“It will prepare them for all kinds of other pressure situations as the year progresses,” Morgan said.

Competition among teammates can galvanize or corrode a team in equal measure, depending on the makeup of the competitors. For the women’s tennis team this fall in individual tournament play, on-court battles have only solidified the team’s chemistry.

“I know it was hard for them to play each other,” said Morgan, “but they handled it with a combination of great fight and respect.”

Other Panthers had strong showings in both the doubles and singles brackets. Dorrie Paradies ’14 and another first-year, Margot Marchese ’16, each won matches against the best in the region. Paradies bowed out in the quarterfinal to the eventual doubles champion.

Kepping paired with Gerger to advance to the semifinal of the 32-team doubles competition.

Last year, the Hong Kong native’s rampage to the top of nationals caught the tennis cognoscenti unprepared. After sweeping the ITAs, winning the Regional and then the National Championship, Leung won 2011-2012 ITA Rookie of the Year.

At the ITA National Championship in Mobile, Ala. this October, she will be targeted as the favorite. Leung is prepared to defend her title in the open.

“As a [first-year] last year, I benefited from the element of surprise because not many people knew a lot about my game,” said Leung. “But this year I felt that a lot of players came prepared and really targeted the weak links in my game.”

The team will play two more tournaments this month to round out the fall season, in which the team uses individual tournaments and practices to strengthen the team in preparation for the dual match season in the spring.

“We aren’t looking beyond this coming week of practice,” said Morgan. “The whole team has really bought into just trying to improve one week at a time.”

The Panther men’s tennis team also competed at the USTA/ITA New England Men’s Regional Championships at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. this past weekend.

Among many strong Panther performances, rookie Palmer Campbell ’16 reached the semifinals in the 64-person singles draw.

In singles play, Campbell defeated seventh seed Matt Micheli of Williams and 9-16th seed Casey Grindon of Bowdoin en route to the final four. Campbell gave his best against Amherst’s Andrew Yaraghi in the semifinal, but fell by a score of 3-6, 3-6. Yaraghi had ousted Panther Alex Johnston ’14 in a lengthy, give-and-take quarterfinal, 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-1.

Senior captain Alec Parower ’13 won two matches in straight sets but finally bowed to the top seeded Lord Jeff Mark Kahan, 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-1. Sophomore Courtney Mountifield ’15 won in the opening round as well.

In doubles play, the tandem of senior tri-captain Spencer Lunghino ’13 and Johnston advanced to the last eight, finishing only two games shy of a spot in the semifinals, as they lost to first seed Rob Crampton and Matt Bettles from Bates College 6-8. The Bates pair had already taken out first-year Campbell and Jackson Frons ’16 8-4 earlier in the first round of the 32-team bracket.

Facing fourth seeded duo from the host school, captains Parower and Will Oberrender ’13 were defeated 6-8 in yet another grueling battle.

“With so many potential impact players away it is a great chance for the young players to step up, and they are doing so in fairly dramatic fashion,” said coach Bob Hansen, referring to two of the Panther men from last year’s team who lurked near the top of the lineup last spring and are currently enjoying fall semesters abroad.

Upon their teammates’ return, the men expect to close the gap separating them and the top teams. For now, the crew will practice hard before they head back on the road to face action on Oct. 5 at Dartmouth and Oct. 7 at Bates.

“We know there is much work to be done to be a national championship team, but this weekend was certainly a step in the right direction,” said Campbell. “As long as we don’t become complacent we will certainly be as good as we can be.”