The men’s tennis team opened their fall season at the USTA/ITA New England Regional Tournament last weekend. Hosted by Williams, Regionals is the major tournament of the fall season — a unique experience for players, in that they compete only individually rather than as a team. Adding to the intrigue of the weekend, the tournament represented the first competitive play for the Jeffs since capturing their first-ever NCAA Championship last season. With a target on their backs, it was a perfect opportunity to send a message to the rest of the NESCAC that Amherst’s success last year was no fluke.
With that goal in mind, the Lord Jeffs got off to a blistering start, not at all looking like a team that had lost five seniors. In fact, the Jeffs’ success was keyed by their youth, in the form of two returning sophomores, Joey Fritz and Chris Dale. Seeded sixth, Fritz began the tournament with a routine two-set victory (6-3, 6-1) over Nichols’ David Drucker before rolling over MIT’s Brian Oldfield (6-1, 6-1). He fell behind early in his third-round matchup against Williams’ Trey Meyer, dropping the first set 3-6, but refused to go away. He managed to edge out the second set in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (1), before barely squeaking out the third by the closest of margins, 14-12, in the breaker. Recovering nicely from that battle, Fritz proceeded to finish off Bates’ Matt Bettles without drama, 6-2, 6-2, which set up a semifinal showdown against teammate Chris Dale.
The unseeded Dale had a more difficult time reaching the semifinals, having to fight through three three-set matches. In his first-round matchup against Tufts’ Andrew Lutz, Dale was outplayed in the first set, but came back to earn the victory in a tight third set tiebreaker, 3-6, 6-3, 10-8. Nearly the exact same pattern held in his second match, as Dale again lost the first set to Bowdoin’s Oscar Pena, the tournament’s No. 8 seed, but was able to recover for the 3-6, 6-3, 10-4 victory. Making the most of his momentum from those two big wins, Dale breezed through his next match against Trinity’s Ned Mandel, 6-3, 6-1, before again being pushed the distance in the quarterfinals against Bowdoin’s Chris Lord. Bowdoin’s Lord was no match for a true Lord (Jeff), however, as Dale outdid him in another three-setter, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
In their semifinal showdown, Fritz and Dale battled in yet another three-set affair. After Dale squeezed out the first set 7-5, Fritz came back with a vengeance in the second, 6-0, to tie the match up at a set apiece. The third set came down to the wire with Fritz eventually earning the victory in a tiebreak, 7-6 (2). With the win, Fritz advanced to the championship match, where he faced off against Williams’ Matt Micheli. Fritz again was forced to battle back after dropping the first set, but came back strong, blanking his opponent in the second set before finishing him off in the third, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.
Fritz’s title marks the second championship Amherst has won in as many years, after earning the doubles crown last season. This year, only one Amherst doubles team made it past the first round. The pairing of Dale and Andrew Scheiner ’15 earned two victories before falling to the tournament’s No. 1-seeded duo from Middlebury. All in all, it was a successful weekend for the Jeffs, and, while it is still early in the season, we can at least be assured that the loss of seniors has not left any dearth of talent. They look primed for a deep run, but we will have a better gauge of that after the entire team returns to action this Saturday against Johns Hopkins.