The ninth-ranked Middlebury men’s tennis team went 2-1 during a three-match homestand Saturday, April 20, and Sunday, April 21. On Saturday, the men scored a 6-2 win over Stevens Tech., but suffered a 2-7 loss to fifth-ranked Williams later that afternoon. On Sunday, they squeezed out a nerve-wracking 5-4 victory over Tufts. Junior Alex Johnston ’14 — the 20th-ranked singles player — spearheaded the squad by pulling out the clinching singles matches at the top spot in a third-set tie breaker.
The team began the weekend with a solid victory over Stevens Tech. at the Nelson indoor courts. The Panthers managed to win two out of three doubles matches. The lefty-righty pair of Johnston and fellow classmate Andrew Lebovitz ’14 topped its opponents 8-4 while senior tri-captains Will Oberrender ’13 and Spencer Lunghino ’13 earned a win by the same score. On the second court, first-year Palmer Campbell ’16 and junior Brantner Jones ’14 fell in a lengthy 8-6 battle.
Sophomore Courtney Mountifield ’15 stormed to a 6-0, 6-0 decision at the fifth singles spot, giving Middlebury a 3-1 lead. First-year Jackson Frons ’16 dispatched his opponent in two sets as well. He won 6-0, 6-4 with relative ease.
The men faced unforeseen resilience in the other matches, however. Senior tri-captain Alec Parower ’13 and Allen Jackson ’16 were both taken into third sets in their respective singles matches. Parower dropped a tight first set 6-7 (4) before coming from behind to win the second and third sets 6-2, 6-3 to seal the win. Jackson won the opening set but had trouble holding serves in the second set. He eventually pronounced a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 verdict. Finally, on the first court, tied at 4-4 in the final set, Lunghino was forced to forfeit because — as a doubles starter — he had to prepare for the Williams match that was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. that afternoon.
The clash between the Ephs and the Panthers was set to play outdoors. Gaining an early advantage in doubles play was particularly important since Williams has long been known to be strong in that field. Unfortunately, despite their valiant efforts, the Middlebury men could not avoid going down on all three courts. Johnston and Lebovitz were defeated by a two-game margin, 8-6. The duo of Campbell and Jones was downed 8-5. Jones and Campbell were unable to capitalize on an early 4-1 lead before the momentum quickly shifted to the other end of the court. In the third singles match, the Oberender-Lunghino pair had their moments during the pro-set but eventually succumbed to an 8-4 loss.
In the singles matches, Williams proved to be dominant in the lower flight matches, sweeping the third through sixth spots. Campbell suffered a narrow 4-6, 4-6 defeat. Fellow first-year Ari Smolyar ’16, meanwhile, fell 3-6, 1-6. Juniors Teddy Fitzgibbons ’14 and Zach Bruchmiller ’14 similarly went down 2-6, 0-6 and 3-6, 3-6, respectively.
Relying on his aggressive play, Jones dispatched a skillful opponent in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4. On the other hand, Johnston fought back from a 2-6 first set loss, concluding the match with a 10-7 victory in the third set super-tiebreaker.
“From an individual perspective I’m very happy with my performances this weekend,” said Johnston. “I had some tough tests and was able to come through in the crucial moments which is a huge positive for me.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, however, Jones and Johnston accounted for the team’s only two points in the match.
On Sunday, the unranked Tufts Jumbos managed to push Middlebury in a drama-filled contest. The Panthers earned a 2-1 lead after doubles, as the pairs of Johnston and Lebovitz and Oberrender and Lunghino won on their courts to give Middlebury the lead. In singles play, Jones and Campbell went down early, but Fitzgibbons and Smolyar helped Middlebury bounce back with straight-set victories. With Middlebury leading 4-3, the match came down to the first and sixth courts. After a lot of lengthy exchanges, Bruchmiller was defeated 5-7 in the third and decisive set. In the meantime, Johnston’s match went into a third set tiebreaker. With his big serve, Johnston finally emerged victorious with a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5) decision.
The team traveled to Skidmore Tuesday, April 23 to compete against the 27th ranked Thoroughbreds. The Panthers came away with a 6-3 win. After doubles play, the team sat at 1-2 after losing both the no. 2 and no. 3 doubles mathes. Despite this, the Panthers were able to clinch five out of the six singles matches. Johnston lead the pack in the no. 1 singles position with a tough three set win. Both Jones and Campbell earned wins in only two sets while Frons and Smolyar fought through three sets for the win.
The team will return to action this weekend as they travel to Amherst on Saturday, April 27. The 17th-ranked Lord Jeffs, who recently topped Williams 5-4, will provide another final, challenging regular season test for Bob Hansen’s team. Middlebury will return to Amherst a week later for the NESCAC championships.
“As a team we have a lot to work on,” said Johnston. “If we are going to beat the top teams we have to find a way of putting up more points in doubles. Our singles is good, but not good enough to go 0-3 after doubles against top-10 opponents.”