Strong singles play lifts Middlebury past Emory into DIII men's tennis national championship
Middlebury advanced to the NCAA DIII Men's Tennis Championship match for the third time in four years and the seventh time in program history with a 5-3 win over second-ranked Emory. The semifinal match was played at the Biszantz Family Tennis Center in Claremont, California. The top-ranked Panthers (24-4) will play third-ranked and NESCAC foe Bowdoin, a 5-0 winner over seventh-ranked Chicago, on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET. The Eagles finish their season at 19-5.
Tuesday's NCAA semifinal contest between the Panthers and Eagles was the 11th all-time meeting between the two schools and the sixth in the NCAA tournament. Emory had won five of the six previous matches before Middlebury's win on Tuesday, with the Panthers other win coming in 2004 during the NCAA semifinals by a 4-1 score. The two teams met on April 21 in Connecticut, with Middlebury posting a 7-2 victory.
Emory gained out to a 2-1 advantage after doubles on Tuesday. The Eagles got on the scoreboard first as the second pair of Adrien Bouchet and Jonathan Jemison defeated Middlebury's William de Quant and Noah Farrell by an 8-2 score, winning seven of the last eight games. A couple minutes later, the top Panther team of Lubomir Cuba and Kyle Schlanger evened the match at 1-1 by claiming three of the final four games for an 8-5 victory over Emory's Scott Rubinstein and James Spaulding. In the crucial third match at No. 3, the Middlebury tandem of Timo van der Geest and Peter Martin trailed 4-1 against Hayden Cassone and Andrew Harrington. The Panther duo fought all the way back to take a 7-6 lead, but the Eagles won the final three games for a 9-7 victory.
In singles play, the Eagles grabbed a 3-1 advantage when Rubinstein posted a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Andrew Xiao at No. 6. Schlanger pulled Middlebury to within one at 3-2 when he defeated Bouchet in the fourth slot with a 6-1, 1-6, 6-1 victory. Seconds later at No. 2, Farrell evened the match at 3-3 with a 7-6 (2), 6-1 win against Cassone. In the fifth flight, Nate Eazor gave the Panthers the lead with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Harrington, as the Eagle double faulted on his serve on the decisive point.
Cuba clinched the match for Middlebury with his victory over Jemison atop the lineup. The third-year Panther won the opening set in a tiebreaker by a 7-6 (2) score. In the second set, Cuba jumped out to a 5-1 lead before his serve was broken and Jemison held serve for a 5-3 score. Cuba followed by holding serve in the decisive game, hitting a forehand volley at the net for the clinching point.
In the lone match that went unfinished, de Quant won the first set at No. 3 by a 6-3 score, but Emory's Alec Josepher evened the match with a 6-1 victory in the second set. The two players were deadlocked at 2-2 in the third set when Cuba tallied the clinching point.
Bowdoin and Middlebury have played four times in the NCAA Tournament, including the 2016 NCAA Championship match with the Polar Bears earning a 5-0 decision in that contest. The two teams have split the previous four contests. Bowdoin and Middlebury met earlier this season on April 14 in Vermont with the Panthers earning an 8-1 victory. The Polar Bears and Panthers played again in the NESCAC Championship a little more than two weeks ago, as Bowdoin earned a 5-3 decision.