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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Men’s tennis competes in NESCAC tournament, to host NCAA Championship first round

Hugh Hentschel ’26 in the midst of a doubles match against the Trinity Bantams.
Hugh Hentschel ’26 in the midst of a doubles match against the Trinity Bantams.

This past weekend, the Middlebury men’s tennis team competed in the NESCAC championship as the top seed and two-time defending champions. After handily defeating Trinity College 5–0 in the first round, the Panthers narrowly lost to eventual winners Bowdoin College 4–5 in the semifinals.

Middlebury was poised for an expected victory in the first round, facing the eighth-ranked Trinity Bantams, who narrowly qualified for the tournament. 

After doubles combos of Neel Epstein ’25 and Robby Ward ’24, Hugh Hentschel ’26 and Thehan Wijemanne ’27 and Julian Wu ’26 and Aidan Harris ’24 all beat their opponents, the Panthers needed just two singles victories to cement their win. 

Epstein and Noah Laber ’24 won their individual matchups to clinch the win for the Panthers. Middlebury’s win over the Bantams came as no surprise. Middlebury has not lost a match to Trinity since the 1999-2000 season, and earlier this season, Middlebury swept Trinity 9-0, 

as they have done for the past several years.

The next day, Middlebury faced off against a more threatening opponent: the Bowdoin Polar Bears. A week before the tournament, the Panthers hosted Bowdoin and handily beat them 6–3.

In their first matchup on April 27, Middlebury took an early lead by dominating the doubles matches. Those three wins provided the momentum for Middlebury to secure three more singles matches from Bowdoin. 

This past weekend, the Polar Bears were hungry for revenge. Bowdoin had the first word, winning the first doubles match of the day.

Middlebury won the remaining two doubles matches and two singles matches, leaving the result up to the #4 singles match. Last week, Epstein toppled his Bowdoin opponent in two sets after a first set loss. 

This week, Epstein rallied to snatch the second set off of his opponent in a hard-fought tiebreaker win, but ultimately, Bowdoin’s Mark Kneiss won the final set to secure the win for his team.

The Panthers fell short of winning their third consecutive NESCAC title, but the team remains hopeful. They now turn their attention to the national championship, a tournament they have won three times in the past, most recently in 2018. 

“I think it was good that we had the loss now compared to later because our ultimate goal is the national championship,” Hentschel said. “We held that as a goal for the whole year above the NESCAC title, so I think we all walked away with a lot of positives.”

The Panthers have qualified for the NCAA tournament each of the past 19 years, so receiving another bid for a chance at the title was no surprise. This year, Middlebury earned a bye for the first round and will host their section of the bracket. 

The Panthers will face the winner of Messiah University and Allegheny College’s matchup in the second round.

The Panthers enter the tournament as contenders to bring home a win, and fans will have the opportunity to watch the team in action as they host the preliminary rounds of play, beginning this Friday, May 10. Looking ahead to future seasons, the college plans to add new courts and large bleacher sections over the summer, offering the chance for more students to watch one of Middlebury’s most successful teams in action.

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