Thursday, May 27, 2010

Final 8 Recap

I'll start by saying congratulations to Middlebury and their outstanding core of seniors. They deserve it after a great season.

I'll go through each day starting with the morning quarters on Tuesday. From what I've heard, the effort from NCW was not very good. It seemed as though they thought they couldn't win and gave Middlebury too much respect. After Midd swept the doubles, it was over and there's really not much more to say. Midd romped NCW in singles and this match was over in about 2 hours. The experience for Midd paid off in this one. Much like the other morning quarterfinal, one team was experienced and looking to win the tournament while the other one was just happy to make the Final 8. Midd advances to the semis. The other quarterfinal was the same result, just less extreme. I thought CMU would come out with a nothing to lose attitude, and maybe they did, but it backfired as Wash U's experience on this stage paid off and resulted in an easy doubles sweep. Like I said, the last time I picked Wash U to lose, they swept Hopkins in doubles at Indoors 8-4 across the board. The same exact thing happened in this one. The Indoors first round and this match were almost identical. CMU had a great season but they clearly were not ready to play and they couldn't match the intensity of Wash U. The Bears experience just paid off. After the doubles in this one, I thought Wash U may have a shot at Midd if they could keep that dominance in doubles going. The afternoon matches brought two much closer results. The doubles in the CMS-Trinity match was absolutely outstanding and maybe the highest quality doubles matches of the tournament. I wasn't wrong about Trinity's outstanding doubles lineup, but CMS managed to get the 1 very important point that they needed. CMS' dominance in singles was seen pretty quickly as they took first sets at 2 through 6. Trinity mounted a mini comeback when they won 2nd sets at 3 and 4 but wins at 2, 5 and 6 quickly pushed the Stags to a 4-2 lead before MacColl closed to end it. This is what I expected to happened as Trinity came out fired up, but the better team won in the end. CMS advanced to the semis but they had to be questioning their doubles a bit. The last match of the day will go down as the most amazing result in D3 history. Emory sweeps doubles with easy wins at 1 and 3 and a breaker at 2 which was actually a big surprise for me. Let's go over what Amherst was able to do. They were down 3-0. Emory has the best 1 in the country, the best 2 in the country and arguably the best 4 in the country. Pottish hadn't lost a D3 dual match all spring and Goodwin has never lost in a D3 dual match in his two year career. The chances of Amherst winning this were 1 in 100. Emory seems to be well on its way to its 9th straight Final 4. Despite losing 1st sets at 1 and 2 which was a shocker, Emory wins 1st sets at 3, 4 and 6. The report I got was that the heat and humidity were awful Tuesday afternoon. Amherst turned the match in an hour. The took second sets at 1 and 3 through 6. Despite Goodwin winning the second set to even the match, he was getting tired and Kahan looked on his way to an upset win. This is a big surprise for me given the heat in Atlanta. The comeback began with wins at 5, 1 and 2, but Egan won at 4 to force Amherst to win the last 2 matches. Caplan and Gross were late in the 2nd set but Gross got the set to turn the match and he easily took the 3rd. Koenig was so clutch and pulled off the unbelievable upset for Amherst. Emory was the team that had the best chance to beat Midd and I still am wondering what would happen if they won that match. Amherst just seems to always be prepared for the tournament just like last year. They moved on to take on CMS Wednesday.

We now had 4 teams left standing but all 4 knew they would be playing over the next 2 days. With the heat and humidity, there's something in the back of your mind that says save it for the final. This would not be the case as both matches turned out to be marathons. Starting with Midd and Wash U, I think everyone knew that the Bears had to take a lead after doubles to win this match. I knew Watts would win and the Bears had a shot at the bottom of the lineup, but Midd is a little too strong if they have a lead after doubles. 2 and 3 doubles were split quickly and it came down to 1 where Wash U had a match point serving up 8-7 but failed to capitalize and got crushed in the tiebreak. This threw the momentum in Midd's favor but that wouldn't stop the Bears from starting hot in singles. Wash U took 1st sets at 1, 3, 4 and 6 to turn the match in their favor. The first sets from Putterman and Woods were both big surprises to me since Thomson and Olson had both been great all season. Something I haven't mentioned yet is fitness and conditioning. It's something that I rarely discuss but it was certainly a factor during all 3 days of the tournament. Midd took second sets at 1 through 5 in this semifinal and I have to attribute this to superior conditioning. They were able to close at 2 and 5 giving them a 4-1 lead but Wash U was even or leading in all the remaining matches. Watts won as expected and Farah pulled what I would consider an upset at #6 singles to make the score 4-3. Woods hung on for a win but Olson was about to win at #3 to give the match to Midd and he did just that. Looking back, that #1 doubles match could have turned this if Wash U ended up winning. In hindsight, the Bears were only 1 point away from the national championship match for the 2nd time in 3 years. Midd advances in one of their closest matches of the season and they are the favorite in the final no matter who they play. The second semifinal was just an epic match between the underdogs from Amherst and CMS, who was just so hungry to break through and win a national title. The Stags have been to the semis many times but haven't won the title in over 25 years. This was a good chance for them with a very deep team. Both teams trailed in doubles in the their quarterfinal but it was Amherst who was able to jump out to a 2-1 lead with easy wins at 1 and 2. Herst's singles looked dominant the day before so you had to give them the edge heading into singles play. Just like the other semi, CMS comes out and takes 4 first sets to swing the match in their favor. 1, 2 and 5 were all straight sets and after these it was tied 3-3. CMS took a 4-3 lead with a hard fought win at 6 and it came down to 3 and 4. In one of the most amazing comebacks I've seen, Koenig was down 6-1 in the 3rd set breaker. CMS had 5 match points in a row to go to the national championship match and failed to convert. Koenig saved a total of 7 match points and made it 4-4 with an 11-9 win in the breaker. Shortly thereafter, Waterman closed for Amherst to give the Jeffs a 5-4 win and send them to their 2nd national final in as many years. The amazing part of this was that Herst missed the tournament all together in 2008. I don't know which result was more impressive for Herst between the quarters and the semis. An amazing job by Garner and by the team.

Just a quick note on the 3rd-4th match, impressive win by CMS. Every year this is a hard match to play after falling short of your goal of making the finals. Especially in the fashion CMS lost the day before, a very good win for their program. They were probably more ready to play than Wash U. The Bears had come so close the day before against the team that was supposed to be unbeatable and they seemed a little flat in doubles with the exception of the #2 position. The Stags were strong as always but I don't know when they are finally going to get over the hump and win a title. There will always be that cloud hanging over them until they do it and I can't wait to see them fight it out with Cruz again next year. Wash U had a great season but I would say they didn't quite live up to expectations. The semifinal was their season in a nutshell as they had 3 great opportunities and went 0 for 3 in their biggest matches of the season. The Watts loss will really hurt but this is still a young team who will be a contender for many years to come. There's not a ton to discuss when it comes to the final. Midd dominated start to finish and singles was an absolute blowout. I was surprised at the quality of Midd's 2 doubles team throughout the tournament and I give co-MVP honors to Lee, Olson and Jia. I don't know if I can pick 1 because they were all so tough throughout. After about 30 minutes of singles play, this wasn't a match. Amherst needed that lead after doubles but the freshmen Kahan and Sorrell both hit some rough patches and Midd took control with their experience. After doubles, despite the comeback on Day 1, the outcome wasn't really in doubt. A shame for Amherst getting crushed 2 years in a row for the final, but I have them as a huge favorite to win the title next year. Midd was the best team this year. They are probably the best team we've seen since the 2007 Cruz team and they deserved this win. They were only threatened twice during the season, but it's tough to lose when you have 5 great seniors. An unbelievable season for the Panthers and they bring home their 2nd national title of the decade.