Men's Tennis Looks to Win Back-to-Back Titles
Issue   |   Thu, 08/28/2014 - 17:42

Riding that championship high, the Amherst men’s tennis team is ready to begin its quest to defend the Jeffs’ second ever NCAA Div. III title. After a nearly spotless spring season that featured 26 wins, the Jeffs had a perfect postseason, going 7-0 and capturing both the NESCAC and national championships.

The 2014 NESCAC tournament highlighted some of the team’s best tennis of the season, as Amherst powered past Williams in the semifinals, 5-1 — the first time since April 2011 that an Amherst-Williams tennis match was decided by a score other than 5-4. In the championship finals, the Jeffs triumphed past top-seeded Middlebury, 5-1, for their third NESCAC Championship in four years.

With an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, Amherst entered as the fourth seed in the field of 64. After a first-round bye, the Jeffs hosted Stevens for a 5-0 sweep and followed that performance with a 5-1 third-round victory over NESCAC foe Bowdoin. They would then travel to Claremont, Calif. for the remainder of the matches, starting with Emory in the quarterfinals.

The Eagles gave Amherst little trouble, as the Jeffs cruised to another 5-1 victory, punching their ticket to a third straight Final Four. In the semifinal match against Trinity (TX), it appeared as if the Jeffs’ season was coming to a close. Falling behind 3-0 after the doubles matches, the Jeffs needed to win an improbable five of the six singles matches to advance to the championship final the next day.

The team’s top singles player, Joey Fritz ’14, got Amherst on the board early, defeating Paxton Deuel 7-5, 6-4. Despite losing the first set, Justin Reindel ’14 followed with a win in the no. 6 spot, and Michael Solimano ’16 evened the match score at three apiece, defeating Nico Mareno 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. In a remarkable display of grit and talent, Solimano rattled off seven straight games in the third set after being down 5-2. Needing just two more wins to seal the victory, Amherst turned to the reliable no. 5 spot, where Andrew Yaraghi ’16 defeated Jordan Mayer 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. Anton Zykov ’17 clinched the W, topping his opponent 7-6, 6-3 in the no. 4 spot, and the Jeffs were moving on to face rival Claremont-Mudd Scripps (CMS) in the championship match.

Starting in a doubles’ hole once again, 1-2 this time around, Amherst turned to the singles matches to make up for the difference. Solimano quickly leveled the score with a win in the no. 3 singles spot, 6-2, 7-6; however, CMS took back the advantage with a win in the second singles spot. Yaraghi and Reindel were able to notch straight-set victories to bring the score to 4-3, before Fritz won his match 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, prompting his teammates to flood the courts and celebrate their national championship.

“Winning the national championship was a crazy experience, but just as sweet was the road that led us there. The adversity we fought through to win this one made it that much more special,” said senior co-captain Sean Rodriguez.

“I think the team will welcome the challenge of coming in as the defending champs. We’ll come in with a target on our backs, and I think we’re ready for that. We had a bit of a letdown in 2012 when we were trying to defend the title, so hopefully we can do a better job of staying focused and hungry throughout the year this time around,” added fellow co-captain Andrew Scheiner ’15.

The Jeffs will open their fall season the weekend of Sept. 26-28 with ITA Regionals hosted at Middlebury. Last year, Fritz and Ben Fife ’16 brought home the doubles crown, though neither of them will be competing this year to defend their title. Instead, the team will turn to the lone returning doubles tandem, Yaraghi and Revzin, to make a deep tournament run.

“ITA Regionals will be a great opportunity for guys on our team to step up in singles play and for doubles pairings to be established,” Scheiner said. “We’ll also get a chance to gauge our competition in the NESCAC for our spring dual-match season, which should be interesting.”

In additional to forming two new doubles teams, Amherst will also be looking to fill the void of three singles spots left by Fritz, Chris Dale ’14 and Reindel.

“The loss of those three guys is tough, not only because of their abilities on the court, but also because of their leadership,” Rodriguez said. “Thankfully, we’ve got a deep team and a lot of the guys are ready to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.”

Junior phenoms Yaraghi and Solimano will look to build off of their stellar sophomore seasons, as Yaraghi went 22-3 in the no. 5 spot and Solimano went 17-2 in the no. 3 spot. These two will anchor the singles lineup for the fall, along with fellow returner, Zykov. However, a number of spots are up for grabs, and with the team’s talented squad, almost all players will be vying for a starting position.

“The plan for the fall is to put in time on the court and in the gym so that we can have a solid showing at Regionals and so that the team is ready to take on Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon over fall break. Both of those dual matches will be extremely competitive, and we hope to come out playing well to start off our season,” Scheiner said.