Josh Rilla ’06, the 24th-ranked Div. III singles player in the nation, was the Jeffs’ best hope in the tournament. In a match against Middlebury the previous season Rilla flexed his muscle by beating Waldron, then the top-ranked player in the nation, 6-3, 6-3. Although Waldron avenged the loss in the NCAA regional final by a score of 7-6, 6-0, Rilla came into this tournament as a wild card, having proven that he could beat the nation’s best when he found his game. After a bye in the first round, Rilla easily dispatched Ricardo Robigilio of the Wentworth Institute of Technology 6-3, 6-2. Rilla then ran into the fate that was the undoing of pretty much every player not hailing from Middlebury, Vt. Rilla was batted around the court by the much-heralded Belgian freshman Conrad Olson. Although only a first-year, Olson plays second singles for the Panthers, the second-ranked team in the country. Olson defeated the Jeffs’ top player without much difficulty, 6-2, 6-0.
Amherst’s number two and three singles players, Danny Babkes ’06 and Lenny Lepner ’07 both had similar results. Babkes won his first match against Ryan Beck of the Coast Guard Academy, 6-1, 6-0, and defeated Ted Haley of Williams College in a close three setter, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, before playing Ari Beilin of Middlebury. Babkes came the closest of any Jeff to actually beating a Panther, losing 6-4, 7-6.
Lepner also made the third round, beating Adam Sher of Brandeis University and Brian Monier of Williams before being dismantled 6-1, 6-2 by Edmunds.
Sophomore Michael Mintz kept the Middlebury theme going, but was unfortunate enough to draw a Panther in the first round and lost 6-1, 6-3 to George Mayer. Fellow sophomore Geoff Schwartz was the only Amherst singles player not to lose to a player from Middlebury. Schwartz beat Justin Chaffee of Southern Maine University before losing to Payum Payman of Wheaton College 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the second round.
The doubles side of the tournament was very similar to singles, with Middlebury teams occupying three of the four semifinal spots, and the final was all Panthers, with Edmunds and Kevin Bergesen teaming to take the title. Amherst entered two doubles teams, including the combination of Rilla and Babkes, who won the NESCAC doubles title and made First-Team All-NESCAC doubles as sophomores, but had a bit of a slump last year. For their first-round match they drew Unsal and Mayer of Middlebury who were apparently not tired from their singles exploits; the Panther duo won 8-2. They went on to the semifinals only to lose to another Middlebury pair.
Lepner and Mintz played together on the other side of the draw, but also lost in the first round, drawing the tough team of Will Boe-Wiegaard and Tristan Beach of Bates College. Boe-Wiegaard is the second-ranked singles player in the country and was the favorite to win the singles tournament.
The Jeffs are not particularly discouraged by their losses to Middlebury, and hope to focus on improving their number 17 national ranking by catching conference rivals Bowdoin College (ranked 15th), and Williams (seventh), during the spring slate.
“Our team had three guys in the round of 16, which was second-best to Middlebury and better than Williams, who had only one,” said Jeff Wan ’08. “So all things considered, we feel pretty confident going forward.”
The Jeffs will return to team competition next weekend when it finishes up the fall season at the Wallach Invitational hosted by Bates.