The men’s tennis team is coming off of another successful weekend after a recent shake-up atop the Oracle ITA Division III National Rankings.
Despite their hot start, the Panthers have moved down one spot, to No. 4 in the country, as of the Thursday, March 15 rankings release. Displacing the Panthers is Bowdoin, thundering from No. 4 to No. 2 after a successful spring break trip where the Polar Bears beat a handful of ranked opponents. Among the Polar Bears’ victims include now-No. 3 West Coast powerhouse Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Middlebury will have its own chance to face off against prominent West Coast teams such as Claremont and Pomona-Pitzer starting this coming weekend as it flies out to southern California for its spring break trip. For now, the Panthers are focused on maintaining their standing one of the top teams in the Northeast.
The Panthers certainly did not hurt their case for a higher ranking after a packed slate of matches last weekend that included two top-25-ranked teams and Nescac foe Colby. Middlebury met up with the Mules at Dartmouth for a neutral-site match last Friday, March 16, and promptly took advantage of the short drive, besting Colby 9–0.
For the second time already this season, the Panthers did not drop a single doubles set and won 3–0. Kyle Schlanger ’18 played his first match in the No. 1 position on Friday and stepped up in a big way to beat Colby’s former three-star recruit Scott Altmeyer 6–1, 6–0. The rest of the Panthers singles players were also playing their first matches in their respective ladder spots, as well. They nonetheless dominated the Mules.
After No. 2 Timo van der Geest ’18 fended off tough opposition from Sumukh Pathi for a 7–5 win in the deciding set, the Panthers proved far too strong down the ladder. Positions No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5, played by Alex Vanezis ’20, Nate Eazor ’21 and Andre Xiao ’21, respectively, saw emphatic victories for a young Panther contingent. Along with that, Adam Guo ’21 won a critical tie-break against Jeremy Mendoza en route to a 7–6, (7–3), 6–4 victory to round out the singles scoring.
After dispatching Colby, the team then traveled to Massachusetts to take on No. 21 MIT and No. 19 Brandeis on Saturday.
First up were the MIT Engineers, who were coming off of a loss to No. 17 Tufts and who last year went 18–5 and finished their season with a run to the NCAA regional final.
Lubo Cuba ’19 resumed his spot at the top of the singles ladder and had a strong win over MIT’s Tyler Barr to move to 2–0 on the season in dual matches. Schlanger had a decisive win over Sean Ko at the No. 3 spot to preserve his perfect dual-match record as well.
The Panthers ran into trouble down the ladder, as van der Geest lost a 10–2 super tie-break at No. 4 to MIT’s Victor Cheng, and Vanezis fell in straight sets to Charles Deng at No. 5. After Noah Farrell ’19 had to retire early in the first set of his first dual match of the year, Middlebury found themselves down 2–3 in singles.
However, Eazor came back after losing the first set 6–1 to win in the super tie-break, to notch his fourth dual-match win and preserve his perfect record as well. He also leveled the singles score for the Panthers who, luckily for them, had already swept the doubles thanks in part to a flawless 8–0 win by Farrell and Peter Martin ’19, who made his first appearance in a dual match.
Thus, though singles play proved tougher than expected, the Panthers’ rock-solid doubles teams, who haven’t lost a match in dual play this season, stole the show for the 6–3 win.
The Panthers left Cambridge and drove to Natick Racquet Club on the same day for a match up against Brandeis, who recently jumped Bates in the national rankings after besting the Bobcats 5–4 at home. The Panthers, however, weren’t bothered by the earlier match at MIT or the quick turnaround.
To start, the Panthers swept the doubles with ease, all three pairs preserving their respective perfect doubles records on the season. In the singles, Schlanger turned in a near-perfect performance against Brandeis’ Anupreeth Coramutla, a two-star recruit out of Phillips Academy Andover, at the No. 2 spot, winning 6–1, 6–0. Keeping up the scoring were three consecutive straight-sets wins to put the Panthers up 7–0 in the match. Vanezis and van der Geest went to a tie-break third set in their matches, but both came out victorious to seal the 9–0 victory for Middlebury over a strong Brandeis team.
Looking forward, the undefeated Panthers will ship out to sunny southern California when classes end tomorrow as they look to make the most of spring break and pick up non-conference wins against a handful of West Coast teams.
Middlebury has to be looking forward to the second weekend of the visit, as it culminates in a highly anticipated match against No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
The No. 4 Panthers will have had time by that point to adjust to the sunny skies and time change and will take on the CMS Stags on their turf in a match with national ranking implications. Cuba, Eazor, Schlanger, and Xiao are all undefeated in dual matches, not to mention the fact that the Panthers haven’t lost a singles match at the No. 1 or No. 6 spots. Add in that Middlebury has yet to drop a doubles match all spring. The Panthers have the depth as well as the strength at the top to win big next week, and with six matches in as many days, they’ll be ready for a big match against top-ranked CMS.