Every year, we are blessed with a new DIII Tennis Season – one that ends with a new champion, no matter what the year. New players take the journey through the NCAA Tournament against the toughest of foes, hoping to prevail at the very end and lift the DIII NCAA trophy. This year is no different, as the 2017 Emory Eagles were the final team standing. Five years ago, when I became a blogger, I decided that each and every championship should be commended in their own way. I am a big believer in senior captains, and I believe senior captains of championship teams each have their own unique story to tell. This year will be my first time writing one of these articles for an Atlantic South team, so it is a little bit of a nice moment for my region. I never know where these articles are going to go, but they always seem to work out. And off we go, on the Emory Journey.
This year, Emory will be graduating two seniors – and if you know them, they probably couldn’t be much different in personalities. Both have played integral parts in the Emory championship this year, but also the development of the 2017 Championship Team. Those two seniors are Aman Manji and Josh Goodman. Much like the other journey articles I’ve written, these seniors have never won a championship in their careers. This is why we harp on seniors so much at the blog – because it’s hard to win championships. Seniors go through their ups and downs and development and learn what it takes to win. I think these two seniors are another prime example of that, much like every one of the past championship seniors. Let’s take a look back at the past 4 years of the Emory program – because it takes more than 1 year to win a championship, and that’s something that should be recognized.
Now two years removed from the dynasty of Dillon Pottish and Chris Goodwin-led (well, as a player) teams, the Eagles were coming off a tough defeat to the eventual champion Amherst Jeffs in the 2013 season. The always rich recruiting pipeline that enters the Emory program was still alive, as it had produced big time names such as Rafe Mosetick, Eric Halpern, Alex Ruderman, and Ian Wagner in the past two years. Prior to the 2014 season, the recruiting calss produced the following two players:
- Joshua Goodman, 4 Star Recruit from Weston, Florida – Ranked #123 in the Nation
- Aman Manji, 3 Star Recruit from Sammamish, Washington – Ranked #346 in the Nation
Things were looking up for the Eagles as they didn’t graduate too many players going into the year and were banking on their youthful team lead by juniors Ruderman/Halpern/Wagner to get them back to the Final 4. However, the young Eagles then realized that things get kind of tough without two automatic points at the top of the lineup with an ever-improving DIII landscape. Emory was shocked multiple times this season, starting with a surprising upset to Johns Hopkins University at Indoor Nationals, which has previously been Emory’s bread and butter tournament. They then suffered a loss to Wash U in the Stag-Hen Tournament later that year as well. And perhaps most surprisingly, Emory did not reach the UAA Final for the first time in many, many years, as they lost to Carnegie Mellon University in the UAA Semifinal. Throughout the year, Emory was plagued by their lack of doubles play and that reared it’s ugly head in the Elite 8 as Emory again lost to an Amherst team that simply outmatched them. If you are wondering where our two seniors were in all of this, well, get this. Neither Goodman nor Manji played most of the year, as these two guys supported the Eagles from the bench most of their freshman year. Interesting how careers start out, and kudos to these two for not turning into forgotten recruits as some Emory players seem to do.
A new season, and new expectations. A team led by three seniors (Rud, Halp, Wags) should be successful, right? This was a year that I personally picked the Eagles to be front runners in the pre-season. They lost almost no important players, brought in another crop of recruits, and had another year to gel into a team that could take down the Amhersts and Middleburys of the world. Spoiler alert, this would not be the year that Emory would take a title, as we all know. Throughout the year, Emory did a lot of winning. However, they took two important losses – one to Trinity TX in the Indoors final, which was Trinity’s first ever Indoors championship, and another regular season loss to Middlebury on the road. They did take two VERY important matches against their hated but respected rival, Wash U. First time was at Indoor Nationals, which as you know is Emory’s jam. The second time was in the UAA Final, where Emory prevailed by the score of 5-4. I remember this match distinctly, because this was the first time both Josh Goodman and Aman Manji played in the UAA Tournament. In the win, the following happened:
Josh Goodman def. Kevin Chu, 6-2, 6-3 @ #5 Singles
Jason Haugen def. Aman Manji, 6-1, 6-2 @ #6 Singles
This was the match where Goodman was infamously yelling things about the weather in St. Louis, but all that aside, these two got their first taste of big match tennis. Interesting to see the players they played, and especially interesting that Manji got routed by Haugen at #6 singles.
However, this was the high point of their season. Emory went onto the Elite 8 to face off against a very familiar foe once again… you guessed it, Wash U. In what is now remembered as a match that had a ridiculous set of circumstances in Mason, Ohio, the Eagles were defeated by the Bears despite beating them twice already throughout the season. This was a match where senior leader Eric Halpern was decimated by Ross Putterman, 0 and 0 despite beating him three weeks prior. However, I want to keep the focus on the two seniors, and these were their results in the 5-3 Wash U victory.
Johnny Wu def. Josh Goodman, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 @ #5 Singles
Jason Haugen def. Aman Manji, 7-6, 6-4 @ #6 Singles
Welcome to the big leagues, Goodman and Manji. This was a year of learning for the two sophomore Eagles, as we all found out that team chemistry might be a bit more important than team talent. When things went a little astray for the Eagles, the more disciplined team won. Goodman and Manji both took their lumps at NCAAs and I am sure that it stung. But lessons learned are important for the future….
Again, the Eagles entered this season with championship hopes, as they were voted as the front-runner by me (once again) to win the whole damn thing. Things went smoothly throughout the season, as the Eagles went undefeated despite losing Ruderman, Halpern, and Wagner. They combatted this via two ways. Recruits James Spaulding, Jonathan Jemison, and Adrien Bouchet played integral roles in the Emory lineup. But also, Aman Manji took another jump in his play and finished the year playing #3 singles. And when I say played #3 singles, he played #3 singles. Dude was a beast. For example, I’d like to point to the fact that Aman Manji played two spots higher than Jason Haugen of Wash U – however, here’s a little sampling of his results.
Aman Manji def. Tyler Kratky, 7-5, 6-3
Aman Manji def. Daniel Morkovine, 6-4, 6-2
Aman Manji def. Charlie Pei, 7-5, 6-4
Manji was defeating the best #3s in the country and it was 0 problem to him. This was a player who just the previous year, had lost to the Tufts #6 player in straight sets. Can you believe that? If it was not clear how much the man from Washington had improved, you can see it in the results. This is a guy that takes tennis seriously and something that has been with him his whole life. Meanwhile, Josh Goodman continued to grind away at #5 singles, doing his best to be a confident leader for the Emory team. It seemed as if Emory was going to take the title, until the Bowdoin match happened. We all know what happened now, but Emory took a 2-1 lead against the Polar Bears in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament and all seemed like it would go well for the Eagles. Until, the unthinkable happened:
Luke Tercek def. Rafe Mosetick
Luke Trinka def. Aman Manji, 7-6, 6-4
Gil Roddy def. Josh Goodman, 6-4, 6-2
In four sets, the Emory juniors took two tough losses along with their senior leader Rafe Mosetick to send the Eagles home packing. This was an absolute shocker and one that no one saw coming. Manji had been the best #3 in all of DIII all year, and all of a sudden in the Final 4, Trinka beat him. It was like out of a storybook. But out of every losing situation, one can either give up or use it as motivation for next time. What do you think Aman Manji did?
2016-2017 – The Championship Year
And we finally have made it to the Emory Championship year. Again picked by me to win it all (third time’s the charm), Emory started off the year strong. This was led by none other than senior leader Manji, who had suffered NCAA losses the two years prior and was hungry for one last shot at the title. The year started with Manji blowing through the Fall ITA Tournament, winning it all and winning Small College Nationals as well. From a #6 player his sophomore year, Manji became the #1 player in the nation in about two years.
Using the strength of their recruiting classes as well as incredible development from their top player, Emory steamrolled through Indoors with wins over their top UAA foes. They suffered only one blemish this past year; losing to Middlebury in Texas by the score of 6-3. They entered the NCAA Tournament as UAA Champions once again, and they were faced with an eerily similar foe in the Final 4 – The Bowdoin Polar Bears. Box score is below, and I’d like to point out the following:
Aman Manji def. Luke Tercek, 6-1, 6-4
Josh Goodman vs. Gil Roddy, 7-6, 2-6
Manji avenged his loss from the year prior with a straight set win over Bowdoin’s best player. Goodman fought his way to a first set against a player who schooled him the year before. The two seniors represent the words that are across their backs on their uniforms, and that is one word you’ve seen me say all year – FIGHT. The fight was not over, of course, as Emory still had one opponent remaining. That opponent was the CMS Stags, who had just come back once again from a 3-0 deficit against the previous #1 team in the country, the Middlebury Panthers. CMS had everything going for them – the momentum, the belief, and that aura that nothing would stop them, not even doubles deficits. It seemed as if CMS was the team of destiny, led by 4 seniors and a never quit attitude. And… the boxscore is here:
Emory swept the Stags and never looked back, doing something that almost every other team this year could not do, and that was finish off the Stags in a clutch situation. What I find interesting here is that Emory won 5-2, and that is with Manji losing in the final in three sets and Goodman not even finishing his match. While the two seniors surely wished that they were the ones clinching a championship, the fact of the matter remained. The journey for Manji and Goodman was over, and it had finally resulted in an NCAA Championship.
VIDEO: Adrien Bouchet's clinching point in Emory's NCAA D-III Tennis Championship win https://t.co/NVv6acbOrC
— Emory University (@EmoryUniversity) May 26, 2017
— Sewanee Athletics (@SewaneeTigers) May 25, 2017
The Coach (and Asst. Coach)
Despite all the focus on the seniors, I would be stupid not to mention Coach John Browning, who has reigned over the Emory program for years. Coach Browning was kind enough to join us for an interview on the blog this year, and I must say it was one of my favorite podcasts to listen to. While many say that Coach Browning has an “easy” job, the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t. These are talented kids, but Emory does not bring in the #1 recruiting class every year. Coach Browning brings in recruits that fit his program, that fit his team chemistry, and develops them into players that are forces in DIII. If you listened to his podcast, he has a wealth of DIII knowledge, and he has experience with years and years of players coming through his system. Coach Browning does an outstanding job. I’ve received emails from his players and former players praising him for the work that he does, and it is important to have a connection with your players if you are going to get the most out of them. John Browning does that, and that shows in his success.
Moving on, I would be totally crazy not to mention another pint-sized fellow who happens to be the assistant coach of the Eagles this year, and that would be Rafe Mosetick. Rafe has never been one of the humblest players in DIII history, admittedly, but no one, and no one ever, can question the amount of passion and heart Mosetick puts into Eagles Tennis. I mentioned this in a tweet, but it was said to me that “Rafe Mosetick might mean more to this team as a coach than he did as a player” and quite honestly, I might agree. Being a coach this year allowed Rafe the ability to always care about the team as a whole, instead of needing to juggle his on-court responsibilities with being the team leader. If you take a look at Emory’s championship picture – you’ll see Rafe sweating like he just came off the court from a match. Dedication has always been in Mosetick’s blood, and he is just as deserving of this championship as any of the players are. Kudos to you, young Mosetick.
And with that, I will leave you with another chapter in the DIII Tennis History books. One that ended with the Emory Eagles claiming another championship, but more importantly, showed a few young Eagles how hard work will always pay off. This is another classic example of how a team grows with it’s players and how hard it is to win championships. Just think, I could have been writing similar stories about the CMS seniors. But alas, I am not, and today’s article is for Emory. Last year, I pointed out Luke Trinka and his improvement and how that can change everything for a team. This year, you can clearly see once again how that improvement can change it all. Aman Manji went from bench player to the #1 player in the nation. That changed Emory from a Final 4 loser last year to the National Champions. So again, DIII Tennis, I will leave on this note. It’s about improvement. It’s about dedication. It’s about selflessness and teamwork. If you get enough players on your team that buy into this, you have every right to contend for a national championship. Take that lesson from Aman Manji and the 2016-2017 Emory Eagles. Congratulations on a great season, boys. We shall see some of you again next year. And with that, ASouth, OUT.