The men’s tennis team returned from a trip to Maine with solid wins against NESCAC foes Bates and No. 4 Bowdoin. The win came at a critical moment, after the Panthers dropped to No. 8 in the national rankings.
Middlebury’s first contest against the Bobcats was relatively smooth as the Panthers’ deep ladder swept the doubles and prevailed 7-2 overall. Saturday would prove to be the premier challenge of the weekend for the Panthers, with a rematch set against a Bowdoin team that they narrowly beat 5-3 one year ago to secure the program’s third NCAA National Championship.
Four of the starters from last year’s championship game played on Saturday, reprising the rivalry against the formerly 12-2 Polar Bears. “Both teams were going into the match ready for a war, and that is exactly what happened,” said sophomore standout Adam Guo.
This weekend, the Panthers staff decided to try out some new pairings for the doubles competition after some adverse results in recent weeks. All three of the teams were never before seen pairings, and this resulted in a 5-1 overall record on the weekend. Head Coach Bob Hansen said “we were extremely pleased with our new doubles teams and proud of the effort to establish connection and make adjustments to individual skills and style.” The change was welcome as the Panthers improved upon recent results and went 2-1 to start the day.
Having just a small head start, the Panthers later found themselves knotted at 3-3 with the Polar Bears. Guo stepped up with a critical victory at No.4. After seeing minimal time in his first-year campaign last year, Guo currently leads the team in singles wins this spring.
What has made the difference for Guo? Dedication in the offseason, he says. “I went back to the academy I trained at when I was a junior[…]and practiced every weekday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” said Guo. Despite his improved presence on court, the feeling of being a key starter hasn’t lost its appeal just yet. “I was both nervous and excited to play [No. 4 singles] against such a top team…but it shows that [the coaches] really believe in my success and my hard work is paying off,” he added.
Senior Noah Farrell followed suit after Guo’s victory with a three-set thriller of his own to clinch the match for the Panthers. Middlebury would go on to win 5-4 and make their case to move back up in the rankings.
Next up for Middlebury is an away match against No. 7 Amherst as the Panthers try to spoil the Mammoths’ senior day. Saturday could be the time for another big change in the national rankings, and as Coach Hansen pointed out after mixing up the ladder, “sometimes a change can bring new energy.” The Panthers will need all the energy they can get this weekend to take down the upstart Mammoths en route to a favorable seeding for the NESCAC tournament.