The Middlebury men’s tennis team concluded its regular season when they succumbed to Amherst 2-7 last Saturday, April 27. The Panthers dropped to 17-3 in the season and 5-2 in NESCAC.
Ranked 17th in the latest national poll, reigning NESCAC champion Amherst is regarded as one of the strongest teams in the country this year. They also beat Williams 5-4 earlier this season, a team that defeated the Panthers a week ago.
Playing on the Lord Jeffs’ home court, the Middlebury squad fought hard but could not prevent themselves from going down 1-2 after doubles play.
The number-one pair of juniors Alex Johnston ’14 and Andrew Lebovitz ’14 came out strong as they took down their opponents 8-6.
Fellow classmate Brantner Jones ’14 and first-year Palmer Campbell ’16 were able to break serve early on in their match. However, leading 7-4, the duo had difficulty closing out and unfortunately fell in the tiebreaker. Senior tri-captains Spencer Lunghino ’13 and Will Oberrender ’13 were topped by their Amherst opponents with a score of 4-8.
In singles play, matches went back and forth throughout as the Panthers hung tight with the Lord Jeffs. Most of the sets were determined by the margin of just one service break.
Nevertheless, out of the six contests, Lunghino was the only Panther to earn a win. With his strong serves and powerful ground strokes, the senior battled to a 6-3, 7-6 win over his opponent, a nationally ranked player.
At the top spot, Johnston suffered a heartbreaking loss to a talented opponent. The number-one Panther attempted to make a comeback after dropping the first set 5-7. He crawled back in the second set to within two at a score of 7-5 but eventually lost in the super-tiebreaker 4-10.
Playing on court five, first-year Jackson Frons ’16 fell just short of notching a victory. He had a seesaw match against a player who has been undefeated against Division III opponents this season. Frons won a close 6-4 in the first set and lost 2-6 in the second. In the deciding set, the rookie had a match point but unfortunately fell 6-7 (7-9).
Playing next to Frons was junior Teddy Fitzgibbons ’14. Even though he fell behind 3-6 in the opening set, the mentally tough Fitzgibbons counterpunched his way back. He was eventually defeated 5-7 in the second set. At the number two and three spots, Jones and Campbell had lengthy exchanges with the Amherst foes but went down in the identical scores of 3-6, 3-6.
The match marked the end of the Panthers’ regular season, but the Middlebury men are expecting three more weeks of competition as they aim for a national championship run.
Head coach Bob Hansen commented on Saturday’s match.
“I definitely saw signs of us getting better against Amherst,” said Hansen. “We were up 7-4, one break at two doubles and lost in the breaker. That was a potential game changer. Alex lost a breaker for the third at one but is definitely in that one. Jackson had a match point at five before losing 9-7 in the breaker to a guy who has not lost all year. Jackson looked good and we will stick with him going forward.”
This Friday, May 3, the Panthers travel to Amherst for the NESCAC championships. They will take on Tufts in the opening round of the six-team draw.
Just a week ago, the Panthers rallied to a nail-biting 5-4 win over the Jumbos.
Undoubtedly, this weekend’s match will be crucial in determining NCAA-tournament selection. If the Middlebury squad advances, the men will face second-seed Williams.
Hansen spoke about the team’s outlook going forward.
“We are still trying to find our way in doubles but have improved there as well especially at one where Alex and Andrew won again,” said Hansen. “I feel we are getting closer and closer to a top-quality win and will continue to do the things that will make us stronger in singles and doubles. We may still roll out a slightly different lineup but that will be determined tomorrow.”