Amherst stuns men’s tennis in NESCAC opening round, 5-4

Middlebury knocked men’s tennis out of the NESCAC tournament in both 2006 and 2007. As Williams headed into postseason play this year with a 6-1 NESCAC record and a 14-2 record overall, the nationally fourth-ranked team seemed prepped to avoid a repeat of history. But the team didn’t even make it past the first round of NESCACs as an unlikely upset by the Jeffs caused the Ephs an early exit from the tournament.

In spite of the loss, Williams will compete as the No. 1 seed in the six-team NCAA Div. III regional to be held at the College of New Jersey, beginning Friday.

Third-seeded Williams and sixth-seeded Amherst (10-9, 3-4 in the NESCAC) faced off in the opening round of the conference tournament on Friday afternoon. The teams had played on April 5 and Williams had been victorious, 6-3. On Friday, Williams seemed poised to defeat Amherst once more, but Amherst caught the team off guard.

The Jeffs took an early 2-1 lead in doubles play. Co-captain Gary Simonette ’08 and Nick Lebedoff ’10 tallied the lone doubles victory at court two, defeating Amherst’s Mortiz Koenig and Geoff Schwartz, 8-5. Jeremy Weinberger ’10 and Rick Devlin ’09 were involved in a close match on court three, but fell 9-7.

The pressure was on the Ephs to play some gutsy singles matches and pull out of the early hole. Co-captain Dan Greenberg ’08 handled Amherst’s number one player with ease on April 5, but this time the tables were turned, as Zach Lerner toppled the Williams captain in a 6-3, 6-3, result.

“It was rock-bottom for me, and certainly disappointing for our team,” said Greenberg. “But when I replay the match in my head, I realize that four of our six singles players played maybe their best matches of the season.”

With the score knotted at 4-4, the pressure was on Karol Furmaga ’09. After a brief respite in which the match moved due to darkness, Furmaga and his opponent, Sean Doerfler, resumed play in the third set. Furmaga rebounded from an opening set deficit to take the second set, 7-5, but the match came down to the wire in a third set tiebreak. Doerfler dominated the tiebreak to tally the fifth point needed to advance to the semifinals the next day, 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-6(1).

“[Furmaga] wasn’t able to clinch it in the end, but his effort was the best I’ve seen in all of college tennis,” Greenberg said. “In my mind, he turned one of the most painful team losses in Williams history into a five-hour battle that was nothing but inspirational.”

After sending out the Williams squad in the first round, Amherst fell to Middlebury (15-5, 6-1). Then in the tournament finals, Middlebury fell to Bowdoin (14-8, 6-3) and lost its NESCAC crown.

Despite the painful loss to Amherst, Greenberg is still positive about what lies ahead. “If we can remember [Furmaga’s] effort and use that to fuel us this week in practice – reminding ourselves of the guts it takes to compete at this point in the season, then I think we’ll be okay.”

Two days prior to the first round of conference play, the Ephs played a tuneup match against Tufts. The team felt confident after cruising to a 9-0 shutout, but couldn’t utilize that momentum this weekend.