Men’s tennis wins 11th straight NESCAC crown

Men’s tennis won the NESCAC Championship for the 11th straight year this past weekend at Middlebury.

Expectations were high coming into this season, and with the graduation of All-American Josh Lefkowitz ’02, this year’s squad knew that the journey to repeat their past success would be difficult. That fact was made evident when the Ephs saw their 53 match NESCAC winning streak snapped by Middlebury at the beginning of April.

Since that tragic spring afternoon, the team has found its rhythm, stringing off six straight victories including a stomping of Amherst and sweeps this past week of Vassar and Wesleyan. However, the loss to Middlebury hung over the team like a cloud as they entered this weekend’s NESCAC tournament.

“This weekend was great because we came in as the underdogs,” tri-captain Lex Urban ’04 said. “We had lost to Middlebury, and many people thought Bowdoin was better than us as well. We really had something to prove.”

And prove something they did. This past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the team silenced all doubters by winning the NESCAC Championship with 28 points, a third more than second-place Middlebury’s 21.

The defending champion Ephs made a statement early in the tournament. Driven by strong play from every seed in both singles and doubles, Williams had secured by the end of Saturday afternoon at least a share of the title.

In singles in the first two days, two Ephs reached the semi-finals and four more advanced to the final round. Williams’ numbers one and two seeds, John Haywood ’04 and Andrew Murray ’04, each received first round buys and then each won their quarterfinal matches, in three sets over Trinity’s Richard Lawrence and in two sets over Trinity’s Jonathan Hart, respectively. Haywood then lost a close match in the semis to eventual champion and NESCAC player of the year Colin Joyner of Bowdoin, while Murray fell to eventual number two champion Nathan Edmunds of Middlebury.

Reaching the final round were first-year Jeff Kivitz ’06, who triumphed over Bowdoin’s Nick MacLean 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals, Daniel Murray ’04, who defeated Bowdoin’s August Felker 6-4, 6-4, Tim White ’05, who beat Middlebury’s Steve Hulce 6-2, 6-2 and Urban, who roared back from a close first set for a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Bucky Jencks of Bowdoin.

In doubles on the first two days, two pairs of Ephs made the finals, the number one seed of Kivitz and Andrew Murray, who defeated Peraha and Ruttenberg from Tufts 9-7 in the semifinals, and number three seed Scott MacKenzie ’06 and Daniel Murray, who crushed Braun and Pubenstein from Tufts 8-1. The number two seeded team of Urban and Haywood triumphed in the quarterfinals over Amherst’s Chin and Godsall 8-2 before falling to eventual number two champions Joyner and Maclean of Bowdoin in the semifinals.

With its stellar play over the first two days, the team entered Sunday with a comfortable lead and a strong shot at the title, but the men did not rest on their laurels. Instead, they responded by winning all but one of their finals matches.

After Kivitz barely dropped his hard-fought match 6-4, 6-4, Daniel Murray, White and Urban all won their finals matches for a clean sweep of the fourth through sixth seeds. Murray crushed Scott Levy of Trinity, who had previously not lost a set, 6-1, 6-0, while White swept Patrick Keneally of Bowdoin 6-3, 6-4. Finally, Urban destroyed Ben Alexander of Tufts 6-1, 6-1 to complete the trifecta.

The two doubles teams in the finals came up similarly huge. Williams’ number one seed of Kivitz and Andrew Murray thumped Hart and Lawrence of Tufts 8-3. Third seed Daniel Murray and MacKenzie also won their match in Rocky-esque come from behind fashion. Playing with the NESCAC title already secure against a duo from Middlebury who had beaten them earlier in the year and with the entire Middlebury crowd cheering against them, Murray and MacKenzie fought back from a 6-3 deficit for a 9-7 extra points victory.

“I was just impressed that they had so much fire even though we’d already clinched the title,” Urban said of the emotional triumph. “It just capped off a great weekend where we erased any doubts about who the best team in NESCAC was.”

To further that point, Toby Reigeluth ’04 won the flight seven singles finals over fellow-Eph Bryan Monier ’06. MacKenzie won the eight flight singles draw, and Monier and Reigeluth combined to claim the flight four doubles title. None of those matches counted for Williams’ point total, but they all, like the number three doubles final, made a statement about the team’s depth and its guts. Those qualities were evident in every match this weekend, and for that reason the team was proud not only that it won the championship, but of how that championship was won.

“What led the team to victory was what always leads Williams tennis to victory: heart,” Urban said. “Every single player on this team does everything and anything they have to do to win, and the reason is simple: the team. Everyone is playing for everyone else on the team. That’s why we never give up, and that’s why we won this weekend.”

In addition to giving it the victory this past weekend, it is those qualities which allowed the team to overcome its early season struggles and hit its peak at just the right moment.

“The NESCAC victory was a big statement made by our team this weekend,” tri-captain Andrew Murray said. “We entered the tournament expected to get second or third and we had a convincing win over Middlebury who had beaten us earlier in the season. . .The team really started to come together and each and every player is playing at a higher level than when the season started.”

Looking to the future, this weekend’s victory bodes well for next week’s regionals, in which Williams will play at home first against Rochester, and then, fate willing, against the winner of Bowdoin versus Tufts for a bid to the national championship tournament.

The road ahead is of course tough, but the two-in-a-row defending national champions are confident after capturing the conference title.

“There is nothing that could have raised our confidence any more,” Urban said. “The team is coming together exactly the way we would hope before regionals, and frankly I can’t wait to see what we can do.”

“This weekend is great momentum to carry into the regional tournament where every team is a tough out,” Andrew Murray said. “Our team’s depth is amazing and capable of carrying us a long way, but we’re seeing improvements everywhere and our best tennis is just on the horizon.”

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