The third time was the charm for the men’s tennis team, as the Jeffs captured their first NCAA title with a convincing 5-2 victory over Emory Univ. in the national finals this May after runner-up finishes in both 2009 and 2010.
The win over Emory capped a remarkable, record-breaking season for the Jeffs. Earlier in the spring, Amherst won its first NESCAC title since 1992, going undefeated against conference opponents. The Jeffs completed the season with a 38-1 record, with the only loss coming against No. 2 Claremont during the team’s California spring break trip in March.
After securing the NESCAC title in early May, the Jeffs swept through their NCAA regional bracket before heading back to Claremont for the national quarterfinals. In the first round, the Amherst defeated Trinity (TX) by a 5-0 final, as the Jeffs pulled out several close doubles matches in the early going.
The Jeffs then encountered Williams in the national semifinals. The Ephs were coming off a thrilling upset victory over Claremont, but there would be little drama this time around. The Jeffs won the three doubles matches easily, and cruised past their archrivals in a 5-0 win — Amherst’s third victory of the season against Williams.
The Jeffs have earned a reputation in Div. III tennis circles as a clutch team — a squad that plays its best tennis in the year-ending NCAA tournament. When the Jeffs finished as national finalists in 2009 and 2010, they scrapped and clawed their way to remarkable comeback victories against favored opponents in the quarter and semifinal rounds, only to be overmatched in the final.
This past spring, however, the Jeffs found themselves in a more evenly-matched battle for the NCAA crown. Emory came into the match as the consensus No. 1 team in the country — having gone undefeated in regular-season play — but the No. 3 Jeffs had significantly improved their roster from previous years, bringing in San Diego State Univ. transfer Luis Rattenhuber ’13 and freshman phenom Joey Fritz ’14, while returning essentially everyone from the 2010 squad.
Still, Emory entered the match as a formidable No. 1 seed, as the Eagles top singles trio of Dillon Pottish, Chris Goodwin and Colin Egan had gone a combined 43-0 in dual matches before the NCAA final. Later that week, Pottish and Goodwin would end up meeting in the finals of the NCAA individual tournament, and were arguably the two best players in the nation last season.
The Jeffs started aggressively in doubles play, committing to a net-rushing strategy to pressure their opponents. Chris Dale ’14 and Mark Kahan ’13 dismantled Emory’s No. 3 doubles team by an 8-4 score, while Amherst’s No. 2 pairing of Wes Waterman ’12 and co-captain Moritz Koenig ’11 earned another 8-4 win. The Jeffs nearly swept all three doubles matches, but Emory’s No. 1 team of Goodwin and Will Humphreys edged out Austin Chafetz ’12 and Rattenhuber by a 9-7 score.
Undeterred by the close call at No. 1 doubles, the Jeffs got off to a blazing start in singles play, with Amherst singles players Nos. 2-6 each winning the first set either 6-1 or 6-2. No. 4 Fritz was the first player off the court, cruising to a 6-1, 6-2 victory to put the Jeffs up 3-1. Chafetz was not far behind, pulverizing Emory’s Egan en route to a 6-1, 6-0 win. Egan had entered the match undefeated at No. 3 singles, but Chafetz overwhelmed his opponent with precise ball placement and a flurry of angle shots.
While Emory’s Pottish ousted Rattenhuber 6-4, 6-3 at No. 1 singles, Amherst still held all the momentum with a 4-2 lead. Holding the lead in all three remaining singles matches (Nos. 2, 5, 6), the Jeffs needed to win just one of three to clinch the title.
At No. 2 singles, Kahan put together one of the best matches of his career, confounding his more reputed opponent – Goodwin – with incredible court coverage and relentless consistency. As Goodwin’s lob sailed just over the baseline on match point – sealing a 6-2, 6-3 victory – Kahan was immediately mobbed by jubilant teammates, relishing the first taste of a national title.
After a series of unremarkable seasons in the early 2000s, the men’s tennis team has turned into a national powerhouse under the direction of head coach Chris Garner. In addition to providing excellent on-court motivation, Garner has bolstered the team by intensifying the program’s recruiting efforts, bringing in elite players from across the country.
With no seniors in last year’s singles lineup, the Jeffs have an excellent chance to repeat as national champions this season.