21
Mar
09

NESCAC Opener a tough one

As the team boarded the bus behind Merrill Gym on Saturday afternoon, they knew the trip was going to be a tough one. Traveling the 5 hour bus ride through the snow melted mountains to Middlebury twice in 24 hours was one of our longest of the season, and the teams we faced had no intention of being hospitable when we arrived. We got to the hotel a little late, but it wasn’t too late to see Elizabeth’s beloved Louisville Cardinals clinch the Big East Championship. After that, it was straight to bed, the road ahead of them on the court would be much longer than the one they had just traveled.

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The men were first, facing the #4 ranked team in the country. But before making our way to the courts, we had to stop at one of the best breakfast places in New England, the Middlebury Bagel & Deli. It’s a great way to start the morning, serving unbelievable bagel sandwiches and homemade donuts. Like always, getting the advantage early in doubles is key to success in a match between evenly matched teams. Unfortunately, today the breaks did not go the way of the Cats. Playing on their fast, home courts, Middlebury served huge which led to easy put away volleys. The Cats scrapped their way to holds of serve, but could not get a beat on the bombs the Panthers were throwing their way, and we eventually went down 3-0 after the doubles.

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The singles matches would turn out much like the doubles, with the Panthers playing too strong for the Cats. Max played the best and closest match at the #3 position against Andrew Lee, a childhood friend. There was some great shot making, but Middlebury served his way out of numerous break points. This win helped the Panthers defend their home court with a team score of 9-0. Obviously, the outcome was not what we wanted, but this was a match that will help us better prepare for the other top 10 teams we have on the schedule.

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The women took the court in the afternoon after the men’s match was complete. Playing the #13 ranked team in the nation, this would be a good learning experience for the young Cats. It has been great to see the improvement of the team from week to week, from Tampa to MIT to Mt. Holyoke, we would again see the strides these young women are making. This was by far the best tennis the women have played this season, even though it ended in defeat. We moved great and attacked the net aggressively in doubles, proving that the early morning Texas doubles drills are helping us further our doubles play. It just happened the more experience Panthers came up with great shots on the big points when they needed them to get the early 3-0 lead.

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With Caryn, Alex, Meg, and Erika taking the court first we knew we would have our chances to get ourselves back in the match. Caryn played some of the best points of the day, both for men and women, against one of the most coveted recruits from last year. This was an outstanding baseline battle, with great depth and angles being hit by both players. On court 2, Alex’s exceptional athleticism was on display as she continued to run down ball after ball, forcing her opponent to hit one more shot to win the point. She attacked the net with unbelievable first volleys and put aways. She even went “diving” through the air for one stretch volley, only to have her opponent barely reach and push it into the open court. Meg also showed why she was a top recruit from last year’s class, hitting some huge shots. Many times scrambling from side to side while making her opponent do the same, she was just a few points away from taking the first. Her match was very similar to the doubles, she had her opportunities, but her opponent came up big on the important points. Meg has already had some great wins for us this season, but this was by far her best match.

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All the way down on court 4 was the best match of the day played inside Panther Pavilion between Erika and Alyssa Puccinelli. Both women were ripping winners from all parts of the court, many times Erika going behind her opponent with a strong flat ball that could not be chased down. The first set was extremely competitive, with Alyssa coming out on top. The second set would see much of the same level of tennis the first had, only it was Erika finding a way to push the match to a third and deciding set. In the third Erika would just not let up, even being down a break she broke right back to make it 4-3. The two women would continue to hold serve through long games until Erika was serving at 5-6. After holding off one match point, Erika’s forehand sailed long giving Middlebury the victory. It wasn’t just the level of play and score that made this the best match of the day, it was the way Erika played. She exemplified the way all the women competed during the match, playing with no fear, confidence in her shots, and a will to play every point to its fullest.

 

A loss is never easy to take, but this one taught our team several great lessons. We know we can play with the best teams in the country. We know the practice we are putting in is paying off, and the hard work will continue to make us better. And we know to trust our shots because having confidence is the only way we will reach our goals for the season. 

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