Injuries Continue to Nag Men’s Tennis After Spring Trip

By JACK KAGAN

The men’s tennis team is coming off a bevy of west coast matches, playing seven matches in six days. The Panthers went 5–2 on the week in the Golden State, losing tight contests to DII Azusa Pacific as well as to regional powerhouse Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Highlighting the trip were two strong wins over No. 12 Pomona-Pitzer and DII UC San Diego.

Take the losses over break with a grain of salt, however. The Panthers are still recovering from injuries to multiple key players and expect to remain in the hunt for a national championship. An injury sustained in the fourth match of the spring, against MIT, has kept out Noah Farrell ’19. Head coach Bob Hansen says that Farrell’s presence is missed.

“He is one of the best players in the country and we missed his presence in both singles and doubles,” Hansen said. In addition to Farrell’s absence this spring, William de Quant ’18 played his first singles match of the season on the last day of the trip against CMS.

De Quant nearly won it, too, losing in three sets to nationally ranked No. 28 Jack Katzman.

De Quant should be able to take something positive out of this first performance of the spring, especially after a strong fall season that saw him make a run to the final of the MIT Fall Invitational, losing in a close three setter to Williams standout Austin Barr.

“I am still pondering what separated us from CMS,” said Hansen, who said he is evaluating “how best to prepare for the many challenges ahead.”

Despite the injuries, coach Hansen remains confident in his team and has no reason other than to expect “a strong effort the rest of the way.”

Though they fell short in a much-anticipated match against No. 6 CMS, simply playing the Stags was good for the Panthers.

“Spring break was an incredible experience with our team,” said assistant coach Andrew Thomson. “There is something about the traveling and competing together as a group on the road which promotes development where we become even more tightly bound together as a group.”

The Panthers do have a lot to be happy about and take away from the trip. Nate Eazor ’21 had a successful day against the 14th ranked Division II team Azusa Pacific, winning two straight tie breakers at the No. 5 spot to win 7–6 (7–5), 7–6 (7–5). Eazor also teamed up with fellow first-year Andre Xiao ’21 in doubles to win 8–5. Xiao and as well as Lubomir Cuba ’19 both suffered their first loss of the spring in close fashion. The rest of the matches saw Azusa handle the Panthers in a relatively dominant manner in both singles and doubles.

After some time off from competition, the Panthers found themselves in Claremont two days later and put their first lost behind them, beating UC Santa Cruz 5–4.

Cuba and Kyle Schlanger ’18 kept up their near perfect doubles campaign to earn the sole doubles point for the Panthers in a dominant 8–2 win.
Cuba continued his hot streak in singles, coming back from a first set loss to overcome Santa Cruz’s Chad Le Duff. While the slugs of Santa Cruz were too much for the Panthers at the No. 2 and No. 3 slots, Middlebury once again demonstrated their incredible depth as they swept positions No. 3–5. In addition to strong straight set wins from Xiao and Eazor, this was highlighted by a comeback by Alex Vanezis ’20 that resulted in a 6–0 win in the third and decisive set. A 9–0 rout of Merrimack, a confident 8–1 win against No. 12 Pomona-Pitzer, and a win against DII UC San Diego gave the Panthers confidence on the warm days leading up to the long-awaited matchup against CMS.

When the CMS match finally rolled around, the Panthers found themselves down early, after only one of the doubles teams turned in a win, coming in the form of de Quant’s return as he teamed up with Eazor in an 8–6 victory. Despite de Quant’s and Eazor’s effort, the early deficit was too steep for the Panthers to overcome.

“Many factors contributed to the difference in scores between us and CMS. First and foremost, they played better than we did,” Hansen said.

Even for an 8–1 loss, it would be entirely inaccurate to say that CMS blew Middlebury out of the water, as four of the six singles matches went to a third set or included a tie-break.

Schlanger had perhaps the tightest match, losing 1–6, 6–2, 7–6 (9–7), and Hansen said he believes Schlanger was right on the cusp of victory.

Despite the final score against CMS and the marginal losses, the coaching staff was quick to rattle of some valuable takeaways from the Panthers’ final match of the trip west, as well as the week as a whole. For one, the Panthers got a feel for the courts at CMS.

“CMS is hosting the NCAA tournament and their courts are quite unique so playing there on Spring Break will serve us well assuming we put together a strong finish to qualify for a nice run [to the NCAA tournament],” said Hansen, who remembers the loss his team suffered to CMS in the semifinals of the same tournament last year in May.

“The loss to CMS provides ample feedback and motivation for us to continue to get better,” Thomson said, “but we remain steadfast in our feeling that if we play to our capability we can compete with anyone in the country. Our job now is to stay humble, stay hungry, and to continue to pour our hearts into each and every practice and match to put ourselves in the best possible position for postseason play.”

Thomson and the team are definitely excited about the next matches against No. 5 Williams and No. 15 Tufts this weekend. With such important conference matchups on the horizon, and more national rankings implications ahead with Williams, who just upset CMS, Thomson said the team can’t afford to miss a beat.

“The Nescac is one of the deepest conferences in DIII,” Thomson said. “Each weekend here on out will provide us with a stringent test that will allow us to measure where we are at and where we still need to improve.”

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Injuries Continue to Nag Men’s Tennis After Spring Trip