In May, while the majority of Emory’s students were beginning their summer vacations, the men’s tennis team had one more task to complete â€” winning a National Championship. And they did just that with a 5-3 victory over Kenyon College (Ohio) in the NCAA Division III Men’s Tennis Championships in Cary, N.C.
“It was a very special team, and they captured that moment, but they worked for it too,” Head Coach John Browning said. “I think just going through all the travails along the line and with the close matches that we could have given away, I just think it makes it that much more sweeter.”
Under the leadership of graduated senior captains Dillon Pottish, Chris Goodwin, and Will Humphreys, the Eagles could not have been better positioned to win their third National Championship. Browning says the three seniors served as superior role models for the many younger players on the team.
“Our captains just set a tone the entire year that allowed the younger freshmen to grow into becoming great players and wanting to work hard every single day,” said Browning.
Along with their senior leaders, the freshmen players also played a significant role throughout the season and most notably in the finals matches.
“They were amazing,” said Browning. “There really are no words to describe what they did. If they hadn’t stepped up and if they hadn’t did what they did, there was no chance that we were going to win.”
In each match, there were chances for the Eagles to lose. This was especially true in the final. Emory lost the first two doubles matches, giving Kenyon a boost of confidence and an early 2-0 lead.
“One of the worst things you can do in a championship match is to go down 3-0 in doubles. It’s a huge momentum lift for the other team,” Browning said.
However, Emory’s No. 3 duo of Pottish and sophomore Brian Kowalski prevented the team from being swept in the doubles round and perhaps saved the season for the Eagles, who battled back in the singles portion of the match to claim a 9-8 victory.
“That was probably one of the most nerve-racking matches I’ve ever had to watch,” sophomore Alex Ruderman said. “Going down 3-0 we still wouldn’t [have been] totally out of it because we have relied on our singles all season, but [winning the match] definitely gave us that boost of confidence.”
In the No. 3 singles slot, sophomore Ian Wagner managed a 6-1, 6-4 victory to tie the match score 2-2. The win was Wagner’s 21st of the season, and he finished the year with a 21-3 record.
The Lords regained their lead after sophomore Michael Razumovsky bested Goodwin in straight sets in the No. 2 singles match. But this lead was short lived as Ruderman’s 6-1, 6-3 triumph in the No. 6 singles match evened the match at 3-3.
It was not until 3.5 hours into the match that Emory took its first lead, when Kowalski notched a 6-3, 6-1 verdict over sophomore Wade Heerboth in the No. 4 singles match.
With the Eagles’ ahead 4-3, only one more win was needed for the championship. While Pottish was playing his third set at the No. 1 singles spot, sophomore Eric Halpern was battling in the No. 5 singles match. It was Halpern who eventually clinched the win for the Eagles, as he finished with a 7-5, 7-5 victory, which marked his 20th win in his 22nd outing of the season.
“We could have relied on [Pottish] to win, but at the same time, we were just going to take the first point that we could get,” Ruderman said. “And the fact that Halpern clinched it in the way that he did it was perfect.”
With Halpern claiming the final win to make it 5-3, Pottish did not finish the third set of his match. However, Pottish would still have more playing to do in the NCAA D-III Men’s Tennis Singles Championships.
Pottish fell to his teammate Goodwin in last year’s title match, but he redeemed himself this year with a 6-1, 1-6, 6-2 decision to capture the national championship.
“It was enormously disappointing for Dillon losing last year … and he could have turned around and just given up, but he didn’t, and he worked harder,” Browning said.
Overall, Browning could not have asked for a better ending to his 2012 season. Between their 25-0 record, National Championship Title and a National Championship Singles Title, the only word to describe their year could be perfect.
“It shows that I should probably retire and never coach again,” Browning said. “It’s an amazing group of kids that was on that team.”
â€”By Elizabeth Weinstein