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James Hill | | May 21, 2014

Hill: Amherst comes from behind to win national title

CLAREMONT, Calif. -- Fourth-ranked Amherst dug out of a hole for the second consecutive day at the NCAA Division III Men's Tennis Championship on Wednesday.

This time, though, Amherst won its second NCAA team championship with a 5-3 victory against the top-ranked and host Claremont-M-S at the Biszantz Family Tennis Center. The Lord Jeffs (36-3), down 1-2 after doubles, rallied to win four of five singles matches and claim their second title in the previous four years, with the last coming in 2011. In Tuesday's semifinals, Amherst had suffered an 0-3 deficit against eighth-ranked Trinity (Texas), but bucked up and won the match 5-3.

Amherst coach Chris Garner made a whimsical comment during the post-match press conference, also attended by the three seniors on the roster.

"I guess they were used to it," Garner said, about how his Lord Jeffs came out of a hole to win a match. "But CMS has always had incredible doubles. The reason we even had a chance this year was because of the seniors' leadership. They have a commitment to one another, and to the rest of the guys on the team."

After the Lord Jeffs closed to 3-3, senior Justin Reindel gave Amherst the lead with a 6-3, 6-4 victory at No. 6 singles against Glenn Hull of CMS. The clincher came at No. 1 singles, as yet another senior, Joey Fritz. bested Warren Wood 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. Amherst took third place at last year's NCAAs in Kalamazoo, Michigan, beating Washington-St. Louis 5-2 for the position.

Fritz, earlier named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Senior Player of the Year, is the No. 2 seed in the 32-draw singles tournament which begins Thursday. Wood, a junior, is the top-seed in the singles championship event.

"He played really well and started moving me around," Fritz said of his opponent. "Going into the third set, I just thought 'it's the last match,' and I just got a second wind."

Amherst (36-3) also took out No. 6 Emory 5-1 in the quarterfinals.

For the Stags, it was the second consecutive year they finished as runners-up at the national tournament, and the seventh overall. Last year, four-time champion Williams beat CMS 5-2 in the 2013 final.

Losing for the second consecutive year was not lost on CMS coach Paul Settles, although he expressed great pride in his team.

"I don't know how many teams can appreciate how hard it is to get to the championship match," Settles said. "We lost to two great teams. Amherst came out smoking [in singles] and we had to play catch-up."

CMS (30-2) beat No. 7 Johns Hopkins 5-3 in the quarterfinals, and third-ranked Middlebury 5-2 in the semis. It was the best record for the Stags, and their only Division III loss of the season. William Ellison was voted the ITA Assistant Coach of the Year.

Trinity (Texas) (26-7) went on to capture third place, with a 5-4 win against Middlebury. The match went down to the No. 4 line, which was won by Aaron Skinner with a 7-5, 6-7 (1-7), 6-1 victory against Ari Smolyar. Middlebury finished up with a 21-5 record.

Tiger coach Russell McMindes was named Coach of the Year by the ITA, and senior Nico Moreno was selected for the Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship Award.

Matthew Heinrich of the Stevens Institute was the ITA Player to Watch, and Mike Buxbaum of Johns Hopkins was voted the Rookie Player of the Year.

Two rounds of singles will be played Thursday, followed by one round of the 16-draw doubles tournament. Wood and Joe Dorn of CMS are the top doubles seeds, while Jeremy Bush and Ross Putterman of Washington-St. Louis are No. 2.

The singles and doubles championships are slated for Saturday.