Going into this weekend’s Round of 16 at Amherst, the mens’ tennis team, ranked number one in the East Region, was well aware of the challenges it would be facing. If they lost, their undefeated season and national title hopes would disappear. A win would allow them to stay in contention for the national title they have been pining for since last year’s third-place finish in the NCAAs.
Aware of such realities, the team went out and secured a berth in the Final Four with wins over MIT 4-0 and Amherst 4-2.
Last year’s third-place finish allowed the team to realize the importance of this weekend’s matches. “We remember from last year,” Scott Zinober said ’99, “what it felt like to lose in the tournament and the team has too much pride to just let that happen again.”
Such was the case in their rematch with MIT. Andrew Fagenholz ’98, continued to avenge previous losses, this time with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over MIT’s Eric Ã‡hen. Sherman Lim ‘99 at number three continued the Eph onslaught with a 6-1, 6-0 drubbing of Jim Matysczak.
At number 4, Eric Hasenauer ’00 crushed Ben Cooke 7-6, 6-1.These wins in singles, coupled with the Fagenholz/Lim and Zinober/Evan Hornbuckle ’99 victories in doubles, gave the Ephs the victory in the Round of 16. The other three singles matches and one other doubles match were called off once the Ephs had secured their victory.
The stakes were higher in the team’s Sunday match against Amherst. The Lord Jeffs, like their MIT counterparts, were humbled by Williams earlier in the season. Like MIT, the Amherst squad was unable to exact revenge upon the Ephs during the NCAA Tournament.
Fighting off the rain and a very partisan Amherst crowd, Fagenholz easily dispatched Lord Jeff Harlan Stock 6-4, 6-2. At number two, James Frank ’98 eked out a tight 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 victory over Lord Jeff Ryan Cole. The Ephs’ only two losses of the day came at number 3 and number 4 singles, where both Lim and Hasenauer lost close matches to their Amherst counterparts. However, with wins by Bill Stebbins ’99 and doubles victories by the teams of Fagenholz/Lim, Hornbuckle/Zinober, and Frank/Stebbins, the team pulled off the 4-2 victory over Amherst on the Lord Jeffs’ home courts, thus securing their place in the Final Four.
“It was quite a big weekend for us,” Stebbins said. “We fought against an especially nasty Amherst crowd, but we managed to shut them up.”
Stebbins felt that not only last year’s third-place finish weighed upon the team during the Round of 16, but also the team’s experiences from two years ago, when the Ephs expected to go to the Final Four but were beaten in the finals of the regionals by SUNY Binghamton.
He insisted, however, that the team remained confident that they could win regionals, in part due to the fact that they had played the other three teams in the region before.
The Ephs won’t have to travel far for this weekend’s Final Four. The Ephs hope that the Final Four, held this weekend at Williams, will culminate in their winning the long sought-after national title. While many on the team are pleased by their current success and undefeated season, the team knows that their ultimate goal, that of winning the national championship, has yet to be completed.
Players on the team view the Final Four differently.
In Zinober’s mind, the “hard part is over.” As top seeds in the East Region, they were expected to win all their matches and advance this far. In the Final Four, things are expected to be different for the Ephs.
“We were able to produce when we were expected to,” said Zinober.”This weekend [at the Final Four] it is anyone’s tournament. From this point on, we are playing to win rather than defending something that was assumed to be ours.”
He feels that the key to the Ephs’ national title hopes lies in their taking it one game at a time and not getting “distracted by the idea of winning a national title.”
Fagenholz doesn’t believe that the Ephs will need anything extraordinary in trying to win the national title. In his view, all they will need is “the usual, some good breaks and great playing, although maybe great playing will be enough.”
The team doesn’t expect to do too much differently in practice this week. Last week, in preparation for the NCAAs, the team did a few 3 mile runs, but otherwise stuck to their normal practice routine.
Each player is expected to prepare for the Final Four in his own, unique way. Speaking of practice this past week, Fagenholz remarked, “Individuals mentally gird themselves in different ways. Some of us were mellow, attempting to collect ourselves; others were rather vocal, probably attempting to shake off nervousness. In all, we were pretty intense and serious at practice.”
The team’s first round opponent is Emory. The two squads played last year, with Williams eking out a close victory. Though they expect Emory to pose a difficult matchup for them, they feel that they should be able to close out a victory if each of them plays up to their capabilities.
“I think we definitely have a good shot at winning the title,” said Frank. “But it’s going to take a lot of focus and maybe a little luck. All four teams are certainly capable of winning, so its going to be a matter of who is ready to play.”
The homecourts advantage will certainly increase their chances of victory. The team is thoroughly pleased that the matches will take place in Williamstown.
“The fact that nationals are here is huge,” said Stebbins. “Having the crowd behind us will be an enormous plus for our team. Any time we have people cheering for us, we get fired up. And you know what happens when we get fired up? Balls, hearts and skulls start to break.”
“I think the courts themselves are rather neutral, but the crowd, of course, should keep us excited and desirous of victory,” said Fagenholz.
In addition to representing a possible national championship for the team, the end of the season also marks the departure of seniors Fagenholz and Frank. Both players are pleased with the team’s current success and are hopeful that such success can continue in the future. “It has been wonderful to see this tennis program become competitive on a national level,” said Fagenholz. “I think now that Williams tennis has had a taste of success, even if we don’t win the whole thing this weekend, its excellence will be lasting.”
Indeed, the team’s current success bodes well for Williams in the future. With their current string of victories and hopefully a national title, Williams will likely remain a tennis power at the national level for a long time.
“The team is not only full of talented tennis players but also relentless competitors with high expectations for themselves,” said Zinober.