The Slugs went 1-1 this weekend with a 5-4 loss to #6 Nationally ranked Kenyon College and a 6-3 victory over #4 Nationally ranked regional rival Claremont-Mud-Scripps. With a tough Friday afternoon loss to Kenyon, a mixed bag of emotions was apparent among the team as we prepared for our biggest match of the season that very next day. The yearly battle for progress towards home court advantage come Nationals was one day away. The Slugs went to sleep Friday night knowing that the battle Saturday afternoon would be an enormous test in every sense of the word. It was the match we had all been waiting for.
As we warmed up before the start of the match I wondered if I had done my job getting these boys ready for this match. We had spent so much time prepping both physically and mentally for our CMS battle that next day, I couldn't help but feel we might not be giving this match the respect it deserved. The Lords came off to a quick start with wins at two and three doubles. Andre Halabi and Erich Koenig lost 8-5 at #3 battling to the end. At #2 Devin Nerenberg and Eli Scandalis played very well for most of the match, but having trouble holding serve led them to an 8-6 loss. Eli consistently served some of the best I have seen up to date, with Devin's aggressive returns showing marked improvement. Erik Rosner and Ian Stanley continued their streak of solid play with an 8-6 victory at #1 doubles. Although a little loose at times they stepped up when needed, giving the Slugs hope as we went into the singles. Highlights of that doubles effort also included victories from Chris Goetz/Max Littlejohn and Mike Saria/Jordan Randolph at #4 and #5 doubles. Max and Chris walked away with a dominating 8-1 victory, while Mike and Jordan weren't far off with an 8-2 win at #5. I was extremely impressed by the effort by these four young men as the depth and character of this group was easy to see.
In singles, matches 1-5 were determined in straight sets, with our solo 3-set victory at #6 singles by junior Sam Rodgers. Both Devin Nerenberg and Erich Koenig had great showings winning decidedly with extremely focused and poised play. After straight set losses by Andre Halabi, Erik Rosner, and Bryce Bettwy at 3, 4, and 5, the match was over. As we sat in our conference room post match and took as much out of it as we could the questioned remained, "How can we use this match to prepare us for our match with the Stags the following day?"
We went to dinner that night with family and friends, putting into perspective how lucky we really were. We had loving support from all angles, along with an unbelievable opportunity to do what we loved; compete and play tennis. As the mood started to shift that evening we started to get excited about the challenge we would face that next afternoon. How would we respond?
After breakfast that morning the Slugs went up to the east courts to begin the warm-up. As the music played over the speakers it was apparent that the boy's focus was different that afternoon. The warm-up was tight, focused, and sharp. Before starting the match we sat around in our usual conference room and went in a circle answering the question, "What are we grateful for on this day?" Among a variation of answers a common theme seemed to arise. There was mutual excitement and appreciation around this opportunity to go to battle with everyone in that room, it was very touching.
As the energy began to increase after every point the Slugs began to pick up steam. The environment was loud and exciting with fans, friends, family, and alums all cheering with fire and gusto. First off were Erich Koenig and Max Littlejohn at #3 doubles with an 8-5 victory. With a last minute switch, Max was in his first and biggest match of the season as a freshman. He played with a level of courage and enthusiasm beyond measure; it was one of the most enjoyable doubles matches I have ever seen. Next were Eli and Devin with an 8-3 loss at #2. With a great start and good play towards the finish it wasn't enough against the strong Stag team. Though facing some tough losses recently, the boys' resiliency is there as I know they will keep continue to work. Last was our #1 doubles team of Ian and Erik Rosner who played an amazing match beating the #10 ranked team in the country 8-6. After giving back one break of serve at 7-4, Ian Stanley pushed it past the finish line serving for the match. We were up 2-1 going into singles and hopes were high.
Sometimes after a solid doubles showing it is easy to come out a little flat in singles, this was not the case. The Slugs came out blazing, winning 5 of the first 6 singles sets. Devin was first off with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over the #19 player in the country Warren Wood. His poise and calm presence was unshakable as he prevented Warren Wood from holding serve once the entire match. Next off was Bryce Bettwy at #5 with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Mac Cahill. His ability to hold his level throughout an entire match is improving on a daily basis, it was one of the best showings of the day. The clincher in this match was Andre Halabi beating Alex Johnson, the #12 ranked player in the country, 6-2, 6-3. Andre, aka "The Sniper", couldn't miss a ball. His level of focus from start to finish was concrete. At that we had achieved one of our biggest goals of the season, the cheers were roaring! After Andre clinching the remaining matches continued. Next off was junior Erich Koenig who played a brilliant match at #2 singles losing 13-11 in the third set super-tiebreaker to Alex Lane, the #4 player in the country. Erich competed at the highest of levels and fought to the very end. It was a remarkable effort. Next off was Erik Rosner at #4 winning 7-5 in the third set after being down 0-4. Taking down a previous top 10 player, Robbie Erani, was a pretty special display of resiliency. Riza's play and ability to compete is growing at an extremely fast rate. Last off was Sam Rodgers who lost a close third set 6-3. It was nice to see both players decide to play out the third set even though the match was decided. They obviously had a lot of mutual respect and wanted to push each other to keep growing their games. It was a very cool display.
In closing it was a day I will never forget. I found out later that day that doubles team Mike Saria and Jordan Randolph at #4 beat the team of nationally ranked Alex Johnson and partner Victor Chien with a score of 8-4. Rankings aren't that important, but it does show how far these boys have come; top to bottom. To improve and compete at a level like this and to yield these types of results is pretty remarkable. I am so proud of this entire team for all they have given in this mutual effort to reach our fullest potential. A special thanks to Brian Pybas whose on-court coaching is growing by the minute. Always an amazing player, Brian's progress as a coach is blossoming as he continues to expand his influence over this team. Brian and Matt's contributions are essential. Also a quick thank you to all the parents, alums, and friends, who came up for the weekend event. Having friends and family present for matches like that make it so very special. Lastly a quick thank you to Samved who helped put the weekend event together and run the twitter among other things; it all adds up.