Archive for June, 2009

04
Jun
09

national champions!!!

Several times throughout the season, I spoke about it being a journey. About enjoying the work and struggles it takes to get to the finish line.  A year ago, with the support of a raucous home crowd, Ben and Amrit made it to the semi-finals of the NCAA Doubles Championship. That experience showed them they were capable of doing great things in their career as a doubles team, but it also let them know how far they had to go to become national champions. After that match in May of 2008, they decided as a team to dedicate themselves to do whatever it took to reach the ultimate goal of being #1. On a cool, Sunday evening in the valley of Southern California they had their shot to accomplish something no other Bates doubles team has ever done.

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It started by dedicating themselves to being in the best shape of their lives; Stein and Rupa would lift weights early in the morning before classes. They both knew endurance would be the key to their success, both working to run sub five-minute miles. And finally it was about putting in the extra time on the court, as they would have double hitting sessions during short term the three weeks before the NCAA tournament. All of this training helped them pull out a three set win against the #2 doubles team in the nation from Santa Cruz, then a quarterfinal win over Kenyon. The duo pulled out a nail biter in the semi-finals against Washington University and now it was time to play a team who beat them in the regular season, Bowdoin.

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Both teams seemed somewhat nervous early in the first set as most service games were won easily without many returns being put in play. It would be the Cats who would get the first break and then hold onto it until serving at 5-4. It was Rupa who would serve out the first set for Bates, getting the 6-4 win. It felt good to get the first set under our belt, but we knew the Bowdoin team would respond and fight hard to get the second set.

The second was much like the first except Bowdoin got the break and had a chance to serve out the set at 5-3. They won the first three points of the game, giving them set points up 40-0. But just like all tournament, the Cats showed grit and determination to win five straight points and finally the game.  Both teams would hold serve on the next two games, putting the score at 5-6 with Ben serving. It was apparent how tired Stein’s body was as his serve did not have much on it and they could not find away to force the set into a tiebreak. We would be headed to another third set.

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It would have been easy for the Cats to be down mentally and emotionally after losing such a good chance to close out the match, but that has never been the way this team played. Ben and Amrit knew they had worked too hard to let this opportunity slip away. They were able to break serve early and hold it until 4-3. Bowdoin played an outstanding game to win it and get back on serve, 4-4. At that moment, you could sense a shift in the focus for Rupa and Stein. They knew it was now or never for them and that they would have to make some plays to win the title. It started with a huge inside out return by Amrit that Pena could not get back. 0-15. Then Stein hit a dipping return that was picked up but Rupa was there to hit two backhand volleys, the second being a winner. 0-30. Off of Amrit’s return Stein had a forehand but didn’t hit it as well as he would have liked and Bowdoin’s volley forced Rupa to backpedal to the deuce side baseline where he hit an unbelievable lob for a winner. 0-40. A double fault would give the Cats the game.

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During the changeover, Stein and Rupa looked to each other, knowing this was their championship, making sure to enjoy the moment because this would be the last game they would play together as a doubles team. I don’t think they could have asked for a better last game. Just like in the semis, it would be Rupa’s big serving that would lead them to victory. A huge second serve to the T that was unreturnable started the game. 15-0. Another serve where the return landed wide. 30-0. On the third point, several shots were hit and Bowdoin had an easy forehand but chose to lob Stein. He had just enough left in the tank to leap up and slam it down over the heads of the Polar Bears. 40-0. Amrit then hit a huge first serve, Stein crossed to hit a short little drop shot that bounced twice. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. Amrit leaped into Stein’s arms and once they shook hands it was time to celebrate.

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Coach Gastonguay, as head of the NCAA Men’s Committee, had the joy of  awarding his own players their National Champion trophies. They had to do a TV interview and then of course pictures were taken. Both Stein and Amrit had tons of text messages to respond to with so many fans following back home in Maine. Amrit took a few minutes to call his mom back in Sri Lanka, letting her know all the hard work had paid off.

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It had been an amazing night for Ben and Amrit, for our program and for Bates College itself. But it wouldn’t have felt so satisfying had those two Cats not gone through the hardships of a full year lifting, running sprints, and extra hours on the court. Had they not gone through the lows of defeat in several early season matches, the taste of victory on this day would not have been so sweet.

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And so I end this 2009 season with a quote from author Greg Anderson, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

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