Men's tennis squeaks past Trin. Bantams, earns national respect

The Jeffs were very optimistic heading into Saturday’s match against visiting Williams, last year’s NCAA runners-up. This contest was to be Amherst’s best chance to beat the Ephs in years, since the Jeffs graduated only one of their top six singles players from last year and have brought on several key recruits. The match did not go as planned from the very beginning, however, as Amherst struggled out of the gate, dropping each of the three doubles matches to lose the doubles point. The singles points looked much more attainable, though, as Josh Rilla ’06, Danny Babkes ’06 and Lenny Lepner ’07 each jumped ahead by a set in the top three singles match-ups.

It looked as though the Jeffs would need to pull out just one of the four, five and six matches to win. Momentum began to turn the other way, however, when Michael Mintz ’08, captain Max Rettig ’05 and Geoffrey Schwartz ’08 each dropped their first set 6-3. The situation turned even worse for Amherst when Babkes began to cramp in the second set of his match. When all was said and done, only Rilla and Lepner managed to pull out wins, allowing Williams to maintain control of the rivalry.

“As a team we need to get more comfortable at net in order to win doubles more consistently,” said Jeff Wan ’08. “We have to step it up in the four and five singles spots and number-three doubles in order to win more consistently.”

The next day the team took its frustrations out on visiting NYU. Rilla and Lepner each pulled out hard-fought three set matches, playing in the first and second singles positions. Rilla dropped the first set 6-2 to his opponent but bounced back with a vengeance, winning the next set 6-0 and fighting out the third, 7-5. Lepner split the first two sets 6-4, 5-7 before he exhausted his Violet adversary 6-0 in the final set. Rettig had a much easier time in the number-three spot, winning in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1. Jon Godsall ’06 and Wan both lost their matches in the four and five singles spots, respectively, but Jeff Lawrence ’07 was able to secure the match with a 6-3, 6-4 win in the final singles match. The Jeffs also won two of three doubles matches to win the point and the match.

NYU was just a warm-up, however, for yesterday’s contest against Trinity. The Bantams came to Amherst as one of the top 10 teams in the country. The Jeffs believed that they have the talent to be miles ahead of where they were last year, and beating the Bantams would certainly validate that statement. Once again, however, the Jeffs started off poorly by losing the doubles point. Needing to win four of the six singles matches, the Jeffs got wins out of Rettig, Lepner and Rilla, while Schwartz and Babkes dropped their contests. The entire afternoon came down to Mintz’s thrilling three-set match. Mintz was down a break 3-2 in the final set before finding a second wind and rededicating himself to pounding his opponent’s backhand, which was particularly weak. Mintz managed to string together four consecutive games to capture the final set and hand the victory to Amherst by a score of 4-3. The win was the first time Amherst had beaten a top-20 team in at least two years. “We were ecstatic. [The win] gets us a national ranking and gives us a chance to go to regionals,” said Wan. “It was a huge win for us.”

Amherst will try to build on its encouraging victory over Trinity when Amherst takes on visiting Middlebury College, the defending NCAA champion, on Saturday, and Bowdoin College on Sunday.