Williams begins journey to defend title, survives Skidmore 5-4
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- Williams faced off against Skidmore for the second time this season, this time in the second round of the NCAA tournament, as the Ephs began their defense of their National Championship. The Ephs were trying to make amends for their regular-season loss to the Thoroughbreds, but the Thoroughbreds did not oblige the Ephs so easily. In a thrilling match that came down to the third set of the final singles matchup, the Ephs managed to come up big when it mattered, pulling out the 5-4 victory to claim their spot in the third round.
The Ephs and Thoroughbreds played out a tight doubles portion, and it was the sophomore Eph duo of Brian Astrachan and Alexander Schidlovsky that managed to claim the first point of the match for the Ephs at three-doubles, defeating the Thoroughbred combination of junior Miles Ransom and senior Gabe Steerman with a relatively straightforward 8-4 scoreline. The other two courts were not as straightforward, with the Ephs and the Thoroughbreds sharing the spoils.
First, the Ephs managed to take a 2-0 lead thanks to some clutch doubles play from Eph sophomore Jose Raventos and freshman Rohan Shastri at two-doubles, who had exchanged blows with the Thoroughbred pairing of sophomore Nick Tong and senior Jimmy Sherpa, before Raventos and Shastri managed to edge out Tong and Sherpa right at the end, claiming the point 9-7 in favor of the Ephs. The Thoroughbreds were able to avoid going down the formidable 3-0 deficit, however, as they claimed the final doubles point from the number one position. The senior Thoroughbred tandem of Oliver Loutsenko and Danny Knight outplayed Eph senior Matt Micheli and freshman Conrad Harron 8-6 to give the Thoroughbreds some momentum going into singles.
In spite being down 2-1, the Thoroughbreds rode their momentum from doubles and were quickest off the mark in the singles portion, as Loutsenko was first off the court at one-singles, downing Micheli 6-3, 6-2 to level the match at 2 points apiece. The Thoroughbreds didn't stop there though, as Knight was next off the court at three-singles with yet another victory for the Thoroughbreds, this time over Shastri 6-3, 6-1. The Ephs finally staunched the bleeding thanks to Schidlovsky, who was next off the court at the number four position, cruising to a comfortable 6-2, 6-1 win over Ransom.
With the score all square at 3-3, Harron was next to draw blood from the Thoroughbreds, as he managed to pull out two very tight sets against Sherpa at the number two position 7-5 and then 6-4 to put the Ephs on the cusp of the third round of the NCAA tournament, needing only one more point to clinch. That point would not come easily, however, as Steerman leveled the match once again by taking out Eph sophomore Howard Weiss at five-singles, with a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 scoreline.
It all came down to the match on Court 6 between Raventos and Thoroughbred freshman Kai Yuen Leung. Leung got out to a quick start against Raventos, taking the first set 6-3, but Raventos bounced back well to level the match at a set apiece by claiming the second set for himself 6-4. Both players held serve until 3-2 in the third set, where Raventos showed once again why he has been such a reliable player all year for the Ephs, breaking Leung then consolidating that break to go up 5-2. Leung held serve, and then Raventos followed suit to close out the match for the Ephs and book the Ephs' spot in the third round.
After the match, Eph head coach Dan Greenberg praised his team's mental toughness throughout what was a very well-fought match: "It was a real up-and-down match with a lot of momentum swings, but I thought we did a great job of staying steady mentally and digging deep when we really needed it. Skidmore played really aggressively but were also tough defensively at the same time, so for us to find a few openings and capitalize was a great accomplishment. Both teams really made it an amazing match."