May 10, 2009

Courtesy of Kenyon Athletics

GAMBIER, Ohio - In what turned out to be a grueling affair that took nearly four hours to produce a winner, Kenyon College advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III men's tennis tournament by escaping with a 5-4 victory over No. 14 Carnegie Mellon University. The Lords had to hang on for the white-knuckle win Sunday after the Tartans rallied from a late, 4-2 deficit to tie the match.

In what proved to be the decisive No.4 singles, Kenyon junior William VandenBerg's (Milwaukee, WI/University School) gritty effort kept Carnegie's John Spero from delivering a potential knockout blow. Spero gave CMU the upper hand by taking the first set, 6-4, and was one game from ending the Lords season with a 5-4 lead in set two.

However, VandenBerg showed his tenacity by rallying to force and win the tiebreak, evening the match at one set apiece. Having staved off elimination, VandenBerg rode the momentum to a hard-fought, final-set win, 6-3, which propelled Kenyon to its second Elite Eight appearance in as many seasons.

Another see-saw duel, the No. 3 singles match between sophomore Jeremy Polster (Shaker Heights, OH/Shaker Heights) and Carnegie's Bobby MacTaggart, began the crescendo to the dramatic finish. MacTaggart won the first set, 6-3, before Polster dominated set two, 6-1. In the final set, Polster jumped ahead 4-2, but MacTaggart quickly turned the tables to take a 5-4 advantage. The two then fought through a couple of tough games, but MacTaggart outlasted Polster for the 7-5 win. Coupled with the Tartans' 7-5, 6-2 decision in the sixth singles flight, MacTaggart's victory pulled the teams even with four courts apiece.

The day began with the teams splitting the first and third doubles flights. Seventh-ranked Kenyon (21-7) looked to be in control of the No. 2 doubles after racing out to a 5-0 lead, but the Tartans (20-8) would not drop another set from that point forward. Carnegie's 8-5 decision put the Lords in a 2-1 hole heading into singles competition.

Kenyon quickly erased the deficit when juniors Michael Greenberg (Chapel Hill, NC/Chapel Hill) and Charles Brody (Washington, DC/Sidwell Friends) produced easy victories at the first and fifth singles. Sophomore Tomas Piskacek (Sestajovice, Czech./Gymnazium Spitalska) took charge of the No. 2 singles by winning the first set, 6-2, and earning a 4-2 lead in the second. CMU's Alex Nemerov claimed the next three sets to charge ahead before Piskacek rallied for the 7-5 decision and put the Lords on the brink of advancing.

Kenyon will next meet No. 2 Emory University on May 19th in Claremont, California for the right to move on to the national semifinals.