Travelling south to Massachusetts to take on No. 5 Williams and No. 15 Tufts for their first matches since spring break, the men’s tennis team had a lot to be excited about. For one, Williams recently beat No. 6 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, who two weekends ago handed Middlebury their first loss of the season against DIII competition. On top of that, standout Noah Farrell ’19 made his return to play his first match of the spring, and Will de Quant ’18 was settling in in his second singles match of the spring. Thus, the Panthers drove to Williamstown with the goal of defending their high national ranking before the new Oracle ITA DIII National Rankings come out.
The Panthers, however, found themselves in a big hole early, losing all three doubles matches. Middlebury, who is 30–12 this spring in doubles, could not convert on any of the closely contested matches. De Quant, who is making his own return to the courts this spring, teamed up with Farrell in his much-anticipated return to action. The two lost in a tiebreak, 9–8 (7–4).
“What separates us from Williams in doubles was just one or two points,” de Quant assured. “Nothing more than that. That is the beauty of sports, and if we take away the most important information from that match and work on key things this week during practice, we will win those points next time and be in a stronger position going into singles.”
He may be right. Timo van der Geest ’18 and Peter Martin ’19 lost by the same close score, while Lubo Cuba ’19 and Kyle Schlanger ’18 went down 9–7 in just their third loss in 13 matches.
De Quant noted that such a 0–3 deficit to start the match can be demoralizing.
“Going down 3–0 by losing two doubles tiebreakers can be a big blow to the morale,” de Quant said.
“Our team displayed a lot of poise and competitive spirit in the face of an 0–3 deficit, and we battled back hard,” assistant coach Andrew Thomson said. De Quant was the first to do so, and in convincing fashion.
“My focus was on inserting as much energy and intensity into the overall match as possible,” de Quant said.
“We really wanted to get a point on the board as quickly as possible to build some momentum, and I knew that If I played focused and intense, I would be able to do that,” de Quant said of his rebounding performance against Williams’ Sachin Raghavan. De Quant must have been focused indeed, having the strongest win of the day with a dominant 6–2, 6–3 victory. Picking up his first win of the spring, de Quant added, “Even though I lost a tight match against CMS, I was happy to be back on court and competing at a high level for the team. After that match, I knew that if I focused on finding my rhythm and patterns again, my confidence would follow. I am enjoying being back out on court and still working to get back to the level of play I know I am capable of. This weekend was a step in the right direction.”
As for steps in the right direction, Farrell in the No. 2 spot was next to finish after de Quant. He came back from a 0–6 loss in the first set to power his way to a win 6–3, 6–3 in the final two sets. The coaching staff as well as the players were clearly anxious to get Farrell back on court. “It was a particular treat to watch [Farrell] back in action and competing with exemplary fight and courage in his three-set comeback victory,” said Thomson. On de Quant, he added, “[he] is also continuing to get healthier and healthier and matched Noah’s focused matchplay against Williams with a rock-solid performance.”
And it wasn’t just those returning from injury who impressed last weekend. De Quant added, “We competed very hard, and guys showed grit and determination down 3–0 against Williams.” Cuba fit this description well. Though he suffered his third loss of the season, he pushed Brian Grodecki to a marathon third-set tiebreak. This put the Panthers down 4–2. Any more singles wins for Williams would seal the match. The next three matches proved incredibly close. Schlanger won the first set in his match at No. 4, but lost the next two, sealing the match for Williams. The dense bottom of Middlebury’s ladder again proved too strong. The Panthers have dominated at the No. 5 and No. 6 spots, going 12–2 at both positions. Saturday was no different, as first-year Andre Xiao ’21 picked up an impressive ninth win this spring. Even so, Xiao himself needed a tiebreak to win, and van der Geest rounded out the scoring with a marathon comeback win, 10–8, in the third set. These wins did have significant meaning, assured Thomson, who said, “We are definitely remaining steadfast in our belief that each of these match experiences will bolster our resilience and also [provide] feedback on what we need to work on moving forward to increase the probability of pulling through when it matters most, toward the end of the year.” The final score was 5–4 for the Ephs.
“The team had to bounce back quickly and definitely responded brilliantly, getting a victory over a very tough Tufts team on the road,” Thomson said. The Panthers indeed had little time to waste or worry, with no small task in beating Tufts on the road the very next day. However, they started on the road to redemption early, winning two out of three doubles matches in convincing fashion. Though they struggled at the No. 2 and No. 3 positions, the Panthers again dominated down the ladder, winning matches in the fourth through sixth slots, highlighted by a 6–1, 6–2 win by Schlanger.
At No. 1, Cuba also proved unfazed by yesterday’s close defeat and made quick work of Tufts’ Rohan Gupte. De Quant praised the performance of Xiao and Nate Eazor ’21.
“Two freshmen closed out our match against an inspired Tufts team, in difficult conditions and with huge pressure, so there are a lot of great things to take away from this weekend,” de Quant said. “Overall, we are on the right path upwards and have an amazing group of competitors top to bottom, so I am very positive going into the Bowdoin weekend.”
Remaining hopeful and rightfully pleased with the Tufts result, de Quant couldn’t help but make reference to this coming weekend’s slate. Current No. 2 Bowdoin will come over to Middlebury to face the Panthers on their home courts.
With everyone back from injury and in the swing of things, don’t take Midd’s losses to top-ranked CMS and Williams as indicative of a result this weekend. Undefeated Bowdoin has dominated numerous ranked opponents this year, including CMS, but be ready to watch the Panthers shake the rankings up again with their full lineup ready to go.