“Tennis players come to Williams and become better players because they rise to the challenge of tradition,” said head coach Dave Johnson to his team after Saturday’s match against Amherst.
Saturday, a day that saw the defeat of a feisty, determined Amherst team and the recognition of last year’s Division III championship team, captured many facets of the tradition that makes Williams athletics truly special.
The team dominated Amherst 6-1, improving its record for the season to 7-2 and extending its winning streak to six.
As usual, the match against NESCAC rival Amherst proved to be a remarkable event. As a large number of fans filled the Chaffee tennis center to watch yet another page unfold in the long book of Williams/Amherst battles, both teams rose to the occasion, lifting their level of play to a new level.
“It was a great atmosphere, playing in front of so many people in the Williams-Amherst tradition,” said Josh Lefkowitz ’02, the team’s first singles player and top-ranked player in the Division III East region. “To me, our season is always marked by how we do against Amherst,” said Johnson.
Both teams came out extremely excited and focused on the match but also a bit tight. After the first doubles team of Lefkowitz and Dan Matro ’01 took a quick first victory (8-2), the other two doubles matches were hard-fought and intense to the end.
At second doubles, co-captain Pete Stein ’00 and Milos Janicek ’02 hung tough against two hard-hitting opponents and overcame a 6-3 deficit to take the match 8-6.
Stein hit three unreturnable serves in the final game to secure the victory. This comeback both clinched the doubles point and provided the spark and momentum that the Ephs would carry with them for the rest of the match.
“I was really tight and nervous at the beginning,” said Janicek. “We’re used to starting slow, but it took a really strong effort to get back in this one. Pete started out on fire and kept it from being a blowout.”
“The doubles point was crucial,” said Johnson. “It really helped take the fight out of a team that came ready to play.”
At third doubles, co-captain Eric Hasenauer ’00 and Kurt Palmer ’02 also maintained their intensity in order to come back from a deficit; the pair won in a tie-break 9-8.
One point under their belt and with plenty of momentum, the Ephs focused their attention of the six singles matches. First off for the Ephs was Matro (6-0, 6-2), making quick work of his opponent at third singles with deep groundstrokes and a big first serve.
Lefkowitz finished next, defeating his opponent 6-1, 6-1. Lefkowitz once again displayed pinpoint placement, especially off his backhand, and frustrated his opponent with penetrating groundstrokes.
“I knew from looking at previous scores that his [Amherst’s Reese Segal’s] second sets were usually stronger than his first, so I made sure to concentrate and not let up at all after the first set,” said Lefkowitz.
Hasenauer won soon after at second singles, wearing down his opponent in long baseline rallies to finish 6-3, 6-1.
“I was able to frustrate him,” said Hasenauer. “I had played him three times before and knew that I could win if I kept the ball in play.”
After this clinching match, Palmer won at sixth singles (6-1, 6-4), and Janicek came back from dropping the first set to win at fourth singles (5-7, 6-0, 6-2). The only Eph loss of the day came at fifth singles. Stein played his opponent tough but could not handle his consistently hard first serve.
After the match, the team assembled courtside, and Johnson presented last year’s starting seven with championship rings, but more importantly heartfelt words of praise, gratitude, and respect.
Last year’s captain Scott Zinober ’99 was on-hand for the ceremony, as were teammates Evan Hornbuckle and Bill Stebbins. Sherman Lim, the other class of ’99 member of the championship team, could not attend the match or ceremony.
Johnson spoke about many things, sharing anecdotes about each team member, reminding his players of the great tradition that they are fortunate to be part of, and personally thanking each of them for a miraculous and wonderful season. Johnson also spoke about the difficulty of repeating the championship and how he is looking forward to watching this auspicious season unfold with a young team.