Amherst Upsets Top-Ranked Washington, 5-2; Jeffs to Face UC Santa Cruz Thursday for NCAA Title

Sophomore Priit Gross helped Amherst win a crucial doubles point before sealing the team's victory with a win at #5 singles.
CLAREMONT, CA – One day after upsetting Middlebury College to advance to the national semifinals for the first time in program history, the Amherst College men’s tennis team earned a 5-2 win over top-ranked defending champion Washington University (St. Louis) to earn a spot in the NCAA Division III Championship finals. The Lord Jeffs will take on UC Santa Cruz Thursday at 4 p.m. (EST) at the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges’ Biszantz Family Tennis Center in Claremont, California.

Before the sixth-ranked Lord Jeffs face the third-ranked Banana Slugs for the 2009 NCAA title, top-ranked Washington (22-3) will face second-ranked Emory University (19-4) at 3 p.m. (EST) in the consolation match. Both matches will feature live scoring and radio play-by-play.

While Amherst (28-6) is making its first ever appearance in the NCAA title match, UC Santa Cruz is making its 13th. The Banana Slugs have claimed the Division III title six times (1989, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2007) and finished as the runners-up six on six other occasions (1988, 1990-93, 2001).

Prior to this week Amherst’s best finishes had come in 1996 and 1997, when the Jeffs were eliminated in the national quarterfinals. From 1998 to 2008 the Jeffs failed to win more than one NCAA Championship match in any year.

Picking up the fifth and final point for Amherst Wednesday afternoon was sophomore Priit Gross (Tartu, Estonia), who was also part of the #2 doubles pair that came from behind to win a crucial second point before the teams headed into singles play. With the Jeffs holding a 4-2 lead over the Bears and the three remaining matchups coming down to the wire, it was Gross who brought the match to a halt with a 7-6, [0-6], 6-2 victory in the #5 slot.

Senior captain Zack Lerner (Scarsdale, NY) and sophomore Moritz Koenig (Hamburg, Germany) put Amherst on the board with an impressive 8-5 win over Charlie Cutler and Chris Hoeland in the top doubles matchup, but it was Gross and first-year Austin Chafetz (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA) who overcame a 6-3 deficit to storm back and earn a 9-7 victory that sent the Jeffs into singles play with significant momentum and a 2-1 lead.

Washington’s lone point in doubles play came in the #3 match, where John Watts and Nirmal Choradia teamed up for a convincing 8-1 win over Amherst’s first-year tandem of Wes Waterman (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) and Andrew Jung (Battle Creek, MI).

Chafetz continued to dominate the #2 slot with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Cutler to mark his 12th consecutive victory of the season. The NESCAC Rookie of the Year’s win gave Amherst a 3-1 lead, but the Bears would make it 3-2 when Watts defeated Lerner in the #1 matchup, 6-1, 6-2.

Waterman earned Amherst’s fourth point when he defeated Hoeland in the #6 match, 7-5, 7-5, to improve his record in NCAA Championship singles play to 4-0. The third, fourth and fifth singles matches each went to a third set and the teams were headed for a nail-biting finish, but Gross brought the match to a halt with his clinching win.

Amherst’s upset put a halt to Washington’s 19-match winning streak, a dominant stretch that lifted the Bears to the No. 1 ranking in the ITA national poll.

UC Santa Cruz earned a thrilling 5-4 win over Emory in Wednesday’s other semifinal match. The Banana Slugs took all three doubles points only to have Emory tie things up at 3-3, but Santa Cruz completed the upset by winning the #4 and #6 singles matches.

#6 Amherst (28-6) def. #1 Washington (22-3)
(NCAA Division III Championship Semifinals)

1. Zack Lerner/Moritz Koenig (A) def. Charlie Cutler/Chris Hoeland (W), 8-5
2. Priit Gross/Austin Chafetz (A) def. Max Woods/Isaac Stein (W), 9-7
3. John Watts/Nirmal Choradia (W) def. Wes Waterman/Andrew Jung (A), 8-1

1. John Watts (W) def. Zack Lerner (A) 6-1, 6-2
2. Austin Chafetz (A) def. Charlie Cutler (W) 6-2, 6-3
3. Max Woods (W) leads Andrew Jung (A) 6-3, [1-6], 6-5 (DNF)
4. Moritz Koenig (A) leads Isaac Stein (W) [3-6], 6-3, 4-3 (DNF)
5. Priit Gross (A) def. Danny Levy (W) 7-6, [0-6], 6-2
6. Wes Waterman (A) def. Chris Hoeland (W) 7-5, 7-5