With three wins over the course of three days, the Emory men’s tennis team claimed the throne at the ITA National Indoor Championships in Minnesota Feb. 23-25. The victories also propelled Head Coach John Browning through the 500-win threshold for his career, putting an accent mark on the team’s weekend achievement.
The Eagles claimed each victory in nail-biting fashion. They defeated Gustavus Adolphus College (Minn.) in the quarterfinals on Gustavus’ home courts in Mankato, Minn., before they traveled to St. Peter, Minn., for wins against the University of Chicago (Ill.) in the semifinals and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Calif.) in the championships.
In their quarterfinal matchup against Gustavus, the Eagles overcame a boisterous Gustavus crowd with key performances by freshman Hayden Cassone and seniors Scott Rubinstein and captain Andrew Harrington.
“Gustavus had a ton of fans and you could barely hear anything in front of you,” Browning said. “Our [No.] four through six [singles] guys [Cassone, Rubenstein and Harrington] … were able to stay calm in the midst of the turmoil, which was pretty impressive.”
Gustavus pushed Emory to its limit. Five of the six singles matches went to three sets, and Emory won by only one point, 5-4, after the conclusion of the nine total singles and doubles matches played between the two teams.
“We tried to prepare the players mentally and put pressure on them [in practice] so they’re prepared for the pressure,” Browning said. “It’s easier said than done because it’s different when you’re actually there. Certain players are just prepared and rise to that occasion.”
In the semifinals, the Eagles pulled off another 5-4 victory against their highly-ranked foe, No. 9 UChicago.
“I got a lot older after this weekend,” Browning said. “It came down to the very end. We got off to a good start in doubles, which is important. Chicago is really good and talented.”
Against UChicago, Emory received a similar boost in momentum thanks to critical performances from the bottom half of the singles lineup for the team.
“We were able to get really good production from Harrington at [No.] 5 [singles],” Browning said. “[Junior] Jonathan Jemison played well also. Our freshman [Cassone] played really well to clinch at 7-5.”
The Eagles were prepared mentally for what turned out to be a close matchup against UChicago. Competing against a UAA rival, Emory knew moving on wasn’t going to come easy.
“Chicago is a great team,” Harrington said. “One thing that helped me was respecting my opponent. I knew had to be prepared for a tough match, which helped me stay strong mentally.”
In the championship contest, Emory faced the unfamiliar circumstance of playing an especially early match and dropping individual matches early on in the competition. The Eagles nonetheless pulled out a third 5-4 victory and clinched the championship.
“It was an interesting match because we had to play at eight in the morning,” Browning said. “We did not play well in doubles and got off to a slow start 2-1. We started to feel the momentum slip when we went down 4-1.”
Things started to swing in the Eagles’ favor due to a critical shift for [junior] Adrien Bouchet in his match en route to victory, as well as the efforts from the back end of the singles lineup, which stringed together a series of strong performances throughout the weekend.
“When Adrien Bouchet started to gain momentum, which helped us moving forward, our 4-6 played well again,” Browning said.
The Eagles clinched the championship due to the heroic efforts of Harrington, who in the decisive third set of the match won a tiebreaker 7-3. It highlighted what turned out to be a standout weekend for the captain.
“Harrington had the whole tournament on his back in the third set breaker and I’m proud of how he handled that situation,” Browning said.
Going into the tiebreaker, Harrington put pressure aside and focused on winning each point.
“Something I’ve learned [is that] you can only control your ability to compete and your mindset,” Harrington said. “ I decided to just put everything I had into the match and see what happens. I just tried to focus on every point individually and luckily it all came together in the end.”
Though the championship victory represents a major milestone in Browning’s career, Browning was more focused on the team’s goals moving forward.
“I never really care about the record,” Browning said. “It’s more about us and what we achieve at the end of the year.”
The Eagles begin their outdoor season at home when they will face North Carolina Wesleyan College March 3 at 11 a.m.