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Tennis Reaches Elite 8

By Anish Parikh

TEAM MEMBER

On a cold day in Kalamazoo, Mich., last Friday, the varsity men’s tennis team wrapped up their best season in the history of the school. They were in Kalamazoo for the NCAA Championship tournament, where they became one of the Elite Eight in this year’s Division III tournament, and were eventually knocked out by No. 2 seeded University of California, Santa Cruz.

The finals capped an excellent season that also resulted in awards for two seniors and the coach.

The Beavers started the season underrated by the polls, given a pre-season ranking of 21. But they quickly escalated to No. 6 nationally in Division III and top rank regionally, above Williams College for the first time in almost 10 years.

They rose to the top by knocking off No. 16 Pomona College, No. 11 Claremont College where Ricky Rossello ’01 came through with a clutch third set victory, and No. 6 University of Redlands, where Andrew Kolesnikov ’03 came back from a back injury to upset the Redlands’ No. 6 player.

The victory over Redlands also gave the Beavers a regional ranking above Williams, who had lost to Redlands the day before.

Strong showing in conference play

After returning from their spring break in California, the team ran through local Division I yokels University of Vermont and Boston College. They then beat regional rivals Trinity College (6-1), Bowdoin College (5-2), and Tufts University (5-2).

In New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference play, the Beavers did not lose a single point, winning 670 out of 820 games.

Near the end of the season, the Beavers traveled to Amherst, Mass., to take on Amherst College. Amherst had beaten MIT in every meeting since 1991, 14 in all. But the streak ended this year as MIT edged out Amherst. Derek Tsu ’03 came through with the clutch third set win.

After beating Amherst the team was 20-0, easily the cleanest record Coach Jeff Hamilton had ever seen.

Williams came back to oust the Beavers in the last match of the regular season, sending MIT back down to No. 2 regionally. But the team was not discouraged heading into post-season play. They took the next week to get geared up for regional play, the rounds of 32 and 16 teams of the national tournament.

Close win in first finals round

Their first opponent was Washington College of Maryland, somewhat of a dark horse in this regional. Although Eric Chen ’00 struggled with their top player’s loopy clay court strokes, the rest of the team backed him up and edged out Washington 4-3 on Saturday.

MIT came strapped on Saturday, and blew the Amherst Lord Jeffs out of the water. The team gathered momentum when Ben Cooke ’00 and Kolesnikov came from behind in the doubles, 4-7 down, and defeated the Amherst No. 3 doubles team 9-7.The Jeffs were devastated, the Beavers were inspired, and defeated Amherst 5-0 (which would have been 6-0 except for a poor call), moving them into the Elite Eight at Kalamazoo.

Having worked their hardest to be 22-1, the beavers prepared for their quarterfinal match against Santa Cruz. It had been almost eight years since the Beavers had been this close to a national championship, and they were hungry for a win. Throughout the season, they had been overcoming school stress, weather, freshman, and MIT.

Weather almost foils quarterfinals

And now, on the road to the rings, nature stepped in and tried to stop the Beavers from getting to Kalamazoo. The night before their match, Delta Airlines and inclement weather stranded them in Cincinnati. The connecting flight out of Cincinnati was cancelled, but not before four team members earned $700 each in severance vouchers.

In the end, after waiting in the airport for three hours, circumstances beyond their control forced the team to wait in Cincinnati until 5 the next morning, drive to Dayton, fly to Grand Rapids, and then finally drive to Kalamazoo to meet the 3 p.m. start time. They made it into Kalamazoo at high noon, and staked out their competition, Santa Cruz. On Court 1, Chen played one of the single most stupendous matches of his college career. In two tough sets, making less than 10 unforced errors, he defeated Thomas Oeschell of UCSC, who was the defending national singles champion last year, and one of the top 5 players in the country.

On Court 2, Tsu lost to Derek Fitzpatrick. On Court 3, Jeff Augustyn ’03 knocked off Danny Kim, who also had a national ranking. In response to his win, Augustyn said, “I just never let him shock me. I hate getting shocked, and if I get shocked, I lose. I also just played a good game of tennis, and tried to keep the ball in the court.”

On Court 4, Hernandez lost a tight one to the bad guy from Karate Kid, or a close resemblance at least. He started off slowly, dropping the first set 6-3, and almost came back to win the second set but lost it in a tiebreaker.

At number 5, Kolesnikov lost 6-3, 6-4. On Court 6, Cooke started off slow as well, but was on his way to a solid win when his match was called. In the end, MIT lost 4-2, making them 22 and 2 on the year.

Seniors Chen and Cooke surpassed the 100 win mark earlier this season. In addition, Chen posted the best result ever by an MIT player in the national tournament, making it to the quarterfinals before losing to Sloan Rush of Trinity (Texas), the eventual runner up.

Chen also won the National Arthur Ashe Award for Sportsmanship, given to one men’s player in Division III tennis. He also won the MIT Senior Athlete of the Year award. Cooke and Chen will go on this summer to play satellite tournaments in Europe.

Coach Hamilton was named National Coach of the Year by the NCAA. Although graduating two superstars, the team looks forward to next year.