At 18-2, Red-Hot Men’s Tennis Heats Up in California
Issue   |   Wed, 03/26/2014 - 02:07

The fourth-ranked Amherst men’s tennis team began their spring season this past week in sunny California where they played 17 dual matches over the course of six days. With enough players to fill three squads, the Jeffs went 15-2 — losing only against Concordia and Claremont-Mudd Scripps.

“Our spring break trip was exhausting but rewarding. Since we only lost twice, I think it shows that we can compete with any team in the country. Personally, I played pretty well, but I’m just glad Coach gave me a chance to play,” Phillip Qu ’16 remarked.

On day one, Qu and Eli Mlaver ’14 got Amherst off to a quick start against Hope International, defeating their opponents in the top doubles spot 8-2. Their win was the first of nine, as the Jeffs swept the Royals 9-0. In their second contest of day, the Jeffs faced Concordia Univ. Irvine, whom they defeated 8-1 last spring.

“Concordia is always a very competitive match. We have had some success there over the last couple of years, but they got the best of us this time around,” Head Coach Chris Garner said.

Amherst went into the singles matches down 1-2, as only the duo of Justin Hendrix ’14 and Sean Rodriguez ’15 was able to defeat their Eagle opponents. This deficit from the doubles matches proved to be the difference maker since the two teams split the singles matches 3-3, giving Concordia the 5-4 overall edge.

Against Vanguard later that day, the Jeffs found themselves down 1-2 again after doubles play, as Chris Dale ’14 and Andrew Scheiner ’15 were the only victorious pair. The two also won their singles matches, along with Justin Reindel ’14 and Anton Zykov ’17, to propel Amherst to a 5-4 victory.

The Jeffs began day two with a 6-3 win over 16th-ranked Pomona-Pitzer, where senior co-captain Joey Fritz won his match handily in the top singles spot 6-1, 6-1. In the afternoon, Amherst had another 6-3 win over Westmont. Hendrix and Rodriguez defeated their Warrior opponents 8-4 to continue their success as a pair. They both were victorious in their singles matches, helping notch the win to improve the team’s overall record to 7-1.

Amherst dominated Chapman on day three with an 8-1 win. Michael Solimano ’16 stepped up in the No. 1 singles spot and won his match 6-1, 6-3. The sophomore also played in the No. 1 doubles slot with Aaron Revzin ’16, earning an 8-4 victory. Against 21st-ranked Whitter later in the afternoon, Fritz, Dale and Zykov won the top three singles matches in the team’s 9-0 sweep.

On day four, the Jeffs beat Glendale Community College 8-1. Of note, Ben Fife ’16 won his match in the No. 2 singles spot 6-1, 6-0 in just his second post-surgery match.

When asked what his expectations were for Fife for the remainder of the season, Garner replied, “I sure hope he can get a 4.0 in all of his classes.”

Later that day against Azusa Pacific, Amherst fell into another 1-2 hole after doubles. Solimano and Revzin got the Jeffs on the board early with an 8-4 win; however, Fritz and Reindel lost their hotly contested 9-7 match in the top spot, and Zykov and Mlaver fell 8-6 in the third spot.

In the singles matches, Amherst quickly evened up the score at two matches apiece, as Jan Meyer retired in the top spot to hand Fritz the win. Revzin gave his team a 3-2 lead with a 6-3, 6-1 win in the No. 4 singles spot, but the Cougars answered with a win in the second spot, as Solimano fell 6-0, 6-3. The teams traded wins again as Reindel won his match in three sets in the No. 5 spot, but Mlaver lost 6-0, 6-4 in the sixth spot. With the match even at 4-4, Zykov came through in the No. 3 spot with a 7-6, 6-3 win to clinch the 5-4 overall victory.

“Zykov had a lot to do with the team’s success this past week,” Garner noted.

The Jeffs defeated Point Loma Nazarene 7-2 to finish off day four. In doubles, Hendrix and Rodriguez won 9-8 for their fourth straight victory. In singles, three of the six matches needed a third set tiebreaker to settle the result with Yaraghi and Hendrix prevailing but Russell Einbinder ’16 failing.

Day five featured the biggest match of the break for the Jeffs, as they were up against third-ranked Claremont-Mudd Scripps.

“CMS is a great team. They are always well-coached and have one of the strongest programs in the country,” Garner said.

The Stags earned the first win of the day with an 8-5 victory over Revzin and Solimano in the second doubles spot. They increased their advantage to 2-0, as Yaraghi and Zykov led 3-0 before dropping eight straight games to lose 8-3. However, Fritz and Reindel avoided the doubles sweep and gave the Jeffs an 8-6 win in the No. 1 spot.

“Doubles against CMS was really fun. Everyone there brought a ton of energy, which really helped us pull through,” Fritz said.

When asked to describe Fritz and Reindel’s performance as a doubles team over break, Garner only needed one word: “stellar.”

Reindel gave his team another tally in the win column, defeating his previously undefeated opponent 6-2, 6-1, to tie the overall score up at two. CMS answered with a win by the same score on the No. 4 court, as Yaraghi lost his match to Skyler Butts, who is ranked second in the nation of all Div. III players as of the fall season. Warren Wood defeated Fritz 6-3, 6-4 in the top spot to give CMS a 4-2 overall lead, and the Stags only needed one more win to clinch the victory. It came in the third singles spot, where Zykov lost 6-1, 6-4 in a match that featured many close deuce games. Second singles finished shortly after, where Dale won 6-4, 6-3. Revzin lost his match 6-4, 7-6 in the No. 5 singles spot to leave the final match score at 6-3.

“Even though it was a loss, it was an overall positive experience because it showed that if we play to our potential, we do have a chance to compete against the top teams,” Revzin said.

Later in the afternoon, the Jeffs earned a 6-3 win against Cerritos College. They then dominated Riverside City College, outscoring their opponents 96-21 in games. Hendrix and Rodriguez stayed perfect as a doubles pair, and both players improved to 4-0 in singles as well. Sam Silver ’17 too continued his unbeaten play, earning a win in sixth singles and in third doubles where he played with fellow first-year Myles Tang. In the team’s fourth match of the day, Amherst swept Cal Tech 9-0 in spite of the fact that many Jeffs had competed earlier that day.

On the sixth and final day of break, Amherst closed its trip with three 9-0 wins over Santa Cruz, San Diego Mesa College and 15th-ranked Redlands. Against Santa Cruz, Yaraghi improved his record to 6-1 in singles, winning his match 7-6, 6-1 in the No. 3 spot. He and his main doubles partner Zykov were the most active Jeffs on the week, playing in a team-high of 13 matches.

“Yaraghi has had to battle back from injuries during the off season. We were not sure if he was going to be able to play on the trip, so it was very encouraging to see him playing well in matches. I am hopeful he will continue to improve as the season progresses,” Garner commented.

Against SDMC, Qu and Silver both cruised to easy victories, closing their undefeated breaks. Rodriguez and Hendrix also went unbeaten in singles and doubles play, and Rodriguez’s consistent excellent play earned him NESCAC Player of the Week honors.

“Our team is playing well, working really hard and excited to move forward and see what we can do in the next few weeks,” Fritz said.

“The way spring break works is that we play so many matches in a day that everyone gets to play,” Solimano added. “It was very cool to see our whole team come together competing because often it’s only seven to nine guys when there’s only one match in a weekend, so it was nice to see all 21 guys get a chance to compete at a very high level.”

Up next for Amherst is their first NESCAC match of the season, as they travel to Medford, Mass. to face Tufts Saturday at 10 a.m.