Men’s tennis won its 10th consecutive NESCAC title Sunday afternoon at Amherst by amassing 31 points, nine more than their nearest competitors, Middlebury.
The top-ranked Ephs took five of the six singles titles and one of the doubles en route to the victory, putting the finishing touches on what has been an unparalleled decade of excellence.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Daniel Murray ’04, NESCAC champion in Flight “E” singles and Flight “C” doubles. “I think everyone played some outstanding tennis this weekend, and to watch everyone compete so well against some really great competition from the region, that’s real solid too.”
Murray, who won his singles crown with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Brett Carty of Bates in the final, teamed with Lex Urban ’04 to record the sole Williams win in the doubles competition, a similar 6-1, 6-3 win over fifth-seeded Middlebury in the “C” bracket.
“It’s just an honor to be part of such an incredible tradition,” said Urban, a 6-2, 6-3 victor over Stuart Brown of Middlebury in the “F” bracket final.
It has been a revelatory season for the sophomore, who saw very limited playing time last year and has really come into his own this spring with a rash of solid wins. Even more inspiring was news from the courts that Urban’s brilliant play could be attributed to moral support from home.
“He kept telling me that he wanted to do it for his horse back home, H.P.,” said Murray. “Whatever he used to motivate himself, it worked as inspiration and it led to some great tennis. Lex loves his H.P.”
One member of the squad clearly not horsing around was captain Josh Lefkowitz ’02. The All-American won his third career NESCAC title in the top flight, gutting out an extremely tough semi-final match over Colin Joyner of Bowdoin before earning the title with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Alex Wong of Wesleyan.
The team’s ace was able to fight through whatever frustration he might have amassed during the disappointing doubles events, where he and David Frankel ’04 fell in the semi-finals to a resurgent Bowdoin duo.
“I’d like to thank anyone who ever inspired us to reach for the stars, wherever they are and whoever they may be” said Lefkowitz, who had to deal all weekend with a fierce Bowdoin line-up out to steal the Ephs’ place at the top.
“They were gunning for us, and after the first day, Bowdoin had more teams left in than we did,” said Urban. “Josh’s guy, however, was just playing unbelievabl[y] and Josh wasn’t feeling it. Anyway, he ended up just wanting it more than the other guy â€“ he just played some unbelievable tennis.”
Frankel and Tim White ’05 won their first NESCAC championships in tough solo action, with Frankel triumphing over Ritat Perahya of Tufts in the pair’s second meeting of the year for the “B” singles title, and for the first-year staked out his claim on the “D” bracket.
The grueling 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 result for Frankel was nonetheless far better than the one seen previously in the season â€“ the Williams number two was spanked, 6-1, 6-1, by the first-year Turkish native on April 8 in Boston.
White, by comparison, had absolutely no history with his vanquished foe, first-year Patrick Keneally of Bowdoin, who fell 6-1, 6-4 in a match largely dominated by the emerging Williams star.
The five games dropped in the final by White were also the most he had given up throughout the tournament, a testament to the excellent form and relentless tenacity constantly displayed by the hard-hitting frosh.
“I think winning the NESCACs was a great accomplishment for us,” said White, “especially since the conference is clearly as deep as it has ever been right now. Beyond that, being the top seed and being expected to win every year puts a lot of pressure on us. Other teams are good and they come out and play with nothing to lose.”
Milos Janicek ’02 finished his NESCAC career with a tough loss to August Felker of Bowdoin in the “C” bracket final, falling 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (6) to the junior from St. Louis.
The defeat leaves Janicek with but one NESCAC title in an otherwise excellent four year run, with that championship coming over Matt Sharnoff of Trinity in 2000.
“Milos played a great match,” said doubles partner White, who teamed with Janicek for a run in the “B” doubles bracket that ended with a semi-final defeat, “but he came up a bit short in the third set breaker.”
The other doubles defeat for the Ephs came in the semi-finals of the “A” bracket, where the second-seeded duo of Lefkowitz and Frankel fell 4-6, 2-6 to a contingent from Bowdoin.
The Bears, however, would go on to lose in the final to the fourth-seeded Middlebury pairing of Steve Hulce and Matt Dougherty, who were beaten by Lefkowitz and Frankel on April 3, with the final score of 8-6.
The bottom line in everyone’s mind, however, is that Williams remains the top tennis school in NESCAC â€“ something that has now been true for ten consecutive years.
Credit, as always, was given to the incredible support given and received by all members of the squad.
“The team thrives on winning for your teammate playing next to you,” said Urban, “and that feeling has just been instilled in everyone so that no one allows himself to lose.”
While the Ephs will treasure this accomplishment, all are aware that the season is just heating up. Williams faces a perennial non-conference foe in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a home match this Saturday, and will then move on to NCAA regionals the following weekend.
With the pressure unabated, the Ephs will simply prepare for their next challenge: “We’re going to enjoy this victory,” said White, “but not for too long.”