Amherst Looking to Return to NCAA Title Match
Last year's Lord Jeffs brought the program to new heights by posting a 28-7 record and advancing to the NCAA title match.
Amherst began the 2008-09 campaign ranked No. 7 in the ITA national poll but finished at No. 2 thanks to the best season in program history. After getting off to a 6-3 start, the Lord Jeffs went 16-1 from Mar. 19 to Apr. 19 to set up a pivotal showdown with powerhouse Middlebury in the regular season finale. The highly anticipated match did not disappoint, but it was Middlebury that won the five-hour marathon, 5-4. With the No. 2 seed in the NESCAC Championship, Amherst earned a 5-0 win over Williams to set up another meeting with the Panthers, but Middlebury once again came out on top, this time by a 5-3 margin to claim the conference title.
The Jeffs were selected as a regional host for the NCAA Tournament and received a first-round bye. After making quick work of Roger Williams in the second round, Amherst found itself trailing 2-1 after doubles play against Johns Hopkins. The Jeffs rebounded by winning five of six singles matches to claim the 6-3 victory and advance to the national quarterfinals for the first time since 1997.
Amherst took the program to the next level nine days later by finally getting the best of Middlebury, as a 5-1 victory in the quarterfinals snapped a 15-match losing streak to the Panthers and sent the Jeffs to the semifinals for the first time ever. Amherst’s run was expected to end the following day against top-ranked defending national champion Washington University, but the program-firsts kept coming when the Jeffs earned a 5-2 upset win to advance to the championship match. There would be no first NCAA title, however, as seven-time national champion UC Santa Cruz came away with a 5-0 win to end Amherst’s season at 28-7.
Amherst loses only two players to graduation in Peter Stein and Zack Lerner. A regular in the singles and doubles lineups since 2005, Lerner helped the Lord Jeffs post a 66-30 record in four years. Over his tenure with the Jeffs, Lerner amassed a 48-17 mark in dual match singles play. In addition to being named the NESCAC Co-Player of the Year as a senior, Lerner picked up All-Conference First Team Singles honors for the third straight year and First Team Doubles honors for the first time in his career. A three-time All-American in singles and a 2009 All-American in doubles, Lerner was named last year's ITA Northeast Senior Player of the Year.
Amherst’s senior class was a combined 13-6 in singles play and 7-7 in doubles last year. Bringing the most experience to the group is Dan Kim, who was a regular in the starting lineup as a first-year and sophomore before posting a 3-3 singles record and 4-4 doubles mark a year ago. Alex Kaufman carries a five-match winning streak into the 2009-10 season, while Dan Gonzalez was a perfect 3-0 in singles matches as a junior. Rounding out the class are Robert Abbey and Scott London.
Amherst will need to fill the void left by three-time All-American and 2009 ITA Northeast Senior Player of the Year Zack Lerner '09.
Moritz Koenig highlights a talented junior class this year. In addition to going 8-8 in singles play, Koenig joined Lerner to go 21-5 as the top doubles pair, earning him an All-NESCAC First Team selection and ITA All-America honor. Equally impressive last year was Priit Gross, who was 15-5 in singles matches while spending most of his time in the No. 5 spot in the lineup. Gross was also 18-8 in doubles play.
Tony Sheng won nine of his 11 singles matches last year, winning each of his last seven while playing anywhere from No. 4 to No. 6 in the lineup. Sean Doerfler played four matches in the top doubles spot and posted a 3-1 record, adding a 6-1 mark in singles play. Max and Alex Gumport were a combined 3-1 in singles last year, with Alex winning five of his seven doubles matches. Koenig, Doerfler and Max Gumport will study abroad during the fall semester but are expected to rejoin the team in the spring.
Amherst’s nine sophomores are loaded with talent, but it was Austin Chafetz who came away with the most dominating performance among last season’s first-years. Chafetz was named the NESCAC and ITA Northeast Rookie of the Year, earned All-America and All-NESCAC Second Team honors for his singles play, and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. He was an astonishing 18-1 in singles in the No. 2 spot and 19-7 in doubles, winning his final 12 singles matches to finish as the 20th-ranked player in Division III and the seventh-ranked in the Northeast.
Also making immediate impacts as first-years were Andrew Jung and Wes Waterman. Jung began the season playing in the No. 4 singles hole but moved up to No. 3 by year’s end, posting a 13-3 record along the way. Waterman shuffled in the singles lineup until landing comfortably in the No. 6 spot, finishing the year with a dominating 17-2 mark. Jung and Waterman also excelled as Amherst’s third doubles pair.
Although they did not crack the starting lineup late in the year, the trio of Surain Asokaraj, Julian Camacho and Robby Sorrel played consistently throughout the 2008-09 season. In singles play Asokaraj and Sorrel carry winning streaks of seven and six matches, respectively, into this season, while Camacho picked up three wins at No. 1. The three promising players were a combined 26-9 in singles matches and 16-4 in doubles play. Rounding out the sophomore class are Sam Sperling, Jon Thaler and Chris Morrison.
Reigning NESCAC Coach of the Year Chris Garner welcomes six first-years to the team: Mark Kahan, Alex Kim, Daniel Keolasy, Will Rives, Elton Cho and Matt Fernald. Amherst has begun to turn the tables on national powerhouses Williams and Middlebury, but there is still work to be done before the Jeffs establish themselves as the best team in the ultra-competitive NESCAC. All eyes will be on the Jeffs as they attempt to make another run at a national title, but they will need to fill the void left by Lerner, who provided valuable leadership last season while serving as a captain of an incredibly young team. The 2009-10 season begins Friday, Sept. 25 when the team heads to Williams for the three-day ITA Championships.