As I’m sure you all know, the Williams Purple Cows won the National Title today. This wasn’t a surprise to us this year, but just 4 years ago, this might have been a surprise to anyone that was following DIII tennis. What’s great about the Williams story is how they really represent the dream of DIII Tennis, and everything that keeps this particular sport pure. You’ll see a little more about what I’m talking about after reading this article about the short history of the current Ephs team.
2009 – 2010 Season
To me, 2009 was really a turning point in recent Williams history. With high expectations from a team that made the Elite 8 the year before, losing to eventual champion and powerhouse UC Santa Cruz, the Ephs brought in a massive recruiting class. When I say massive, I mean the #7 rated Mid-Major class that year. This class included four-stars Trey Meyer (ranked #142), Felix Sun (ranked #75), Zachary Weiss (ranked #175), and three stars Bryan Chow (ranked #198) and Dylan Page (ranked #298). Clearly, this was a game-changing recruiting class for the Ephs as they moved forward. However, a big move after the 2009 season was the hiring of Dan Greenberg has Head Men’s Tennis Coach. For your context, Greenberg was 23 years old at the time, had just graduated Williams in ’08, and was the youngest coach to be hired and is still probably the youngest coach in DIII. So, for those of you at home counting, that would be 6 new additions to the team – what I would call a complete overhaul. Despite high expectations that year, the Ephs did not have the season they would have expected. They finished outside of the Elite 8, getting blown out in the Sweet 16 by their direct rival, Amherst College. With a freshman-heavy team, some might say this was expected. But at the time, the DIII landscape was a lot worse than it is now, and people really expected the Ephs to make a big run. When they didn’t, I think the light turned on for these kids and set a sense of urgency in the minds of the team, especially that recruiting class.
Leading into the 2010-2011 season, the Ephs followed up a solid recruiting class with one stand-out player in Matt Micheli, a four-star recruit ranked 132 in the nation. Other than that, however, the recruiting class was somewhat bare. However, Williams improved by leaps and bounds that year, a testament to Dan Greenberg’s second year of coaching. Going into the Sweet 16, they faced a Hopkins team who’s bandwagon was full (sound familiar?) at home, and subsequently won 5-0. This put them in the Elite 8 against a heavy favorite, CMS (surprise, surprise) – who was playing on their home courts. Take a look below at the boxscore:
#1 Doubles – Micheli/Chow defeat Pereverzin/Wu, 8-4
#2 Doubles – Meyer/Sun defeat Lane/Wei, 8-3
#3 Doubles – Petrie/Shallcross defeated by Brockett/Erani, 8-5
#1 Singles – Felix Sun defeats Alex Lane, 6-3, 0-6, 6-4
#2 Singles – Matt Micheli defeated by Robbie Erani, 6-4, 6-2
#3 Singles – Trey Meyer defeated by Alex Johnson, 6-2, 6-2
#4 Singles – Zachary Weiss defeated by Russell Brockett, 6-3, 6-4
#5 Singles – Bryan Chow defeats Ronald Wu, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6
#6 Singles – Dylan Page defeats Mac Cahill, 7-5, 1-6, 6-1
As you may or may not remember, this is the match in which Chow saved 7 match points on the CMS courts at probably 11 PM. I clearly remember watching him grit his way to this win, and this was where the Chow legend was truly born. However, there are a few other things to note from this match. Sun vs. Lane was an extremely close match at 1, and the trio of Micheli, Meyer, and Weiss got routinely beaten. Specifically, Meyer lost 2 and 2 to none other than Alex Johnson. This was a momentum year for the Ephs program, as they gained valuable experience as a team and continued to grow. They ended up placing a distant fourth after getting throttled by Wash U in the third place match, but this was by far a win for the program and Coach Greenberg.
After exceeding expectations in 2010-2011, the 2012 season was supposed to be another leap forward. Again, the Williams players took it upon themselves to improve, whether that be in the offseason or in season. Throughout the year they proved they belonged, suffering little if any lapses against lower ranked teams, and continuing to narrowly beat some of the best teams, but falling short in others. However, you will notice that their lineup stayed with the same starters as the year before, indicating absolutely no regression in their play. This year, they easily made the Final 4, defeating Bowdoin in the Elite 8 by a score of 5-3 to play the eventual national champion in Emory. Not surprising to us, Williams gave Emory their best battle. Quick singles boxscore below, only singles (Emory had a 2-1 lead):
#1 Singles – Trey Meyer defeats Dillon Pottish, 4-6, 7-6 (ret)
#2 Singles – Felix Sun defeats Chris Goodwin, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
#3 Singles – Matt Micheli defeated by Ian Wagner, 6-7,6-2, 7-5
#4 Singles – Zachary Weiss defeated by Brian Kowalski, 6-2, 6-4
#5 Singles – Bryan Chow defeats Eric Halpern, 6-3,0-6, 7-5
#6 Singles – Will Petrie defeated by Alex Ruderman, 6-2, 6-0
I think the main note here is this – Meyer goes from getting routinely beaten by Johnson the year before to beating the best player in DIII a year later. The way he did it, I thought was the most impressive. This was a hot day in Cary, NC, in which Pottish, who had ATP aspirations, was simply out-classed by Meyer. This was due to a combination of better fitness and simply the will to win. I remember very clearly the way Meyer was bouncing on his toes while Pottish clung to the fence, about to puke, on a tiebreaker changeover. I also remember the yells Meyer let out when Pottish eventually had to default the 2nd set tiebreaker and eventually the match because he simply couldn’t walk. How does one to get to that level of fitness, especially against the best player in DIII? The answer is always desire. Despite the loss, it was clear Williams now had the experience and the workmanlike attitude to win it all. They eventually placed 3rd in a tough victory over Wash U the next day, which also presents us an interesting box score. I won’t post it all, but the thing to note is Chow lost at #5 in two routine sets, while Parizher of Wash U went 3 with Sun at the 2 singles spot. Micheli went three sets with Ross Putterman at 3 singles.
2012-2013 Season and Thoughts
Obviously, you know all about this season. The Ephs proved they were ready and went out there and won the National Title. This is impressive in it’s own right. But what is most impressive to me, and what I think is a great example to DIII Tennis, is the steady improvement each year, both by the team and by individual players. As you can easily reference the box-scores I posted, you will see small individual accomplishments that meant a big deal in the long run. This is what separates this particular Williams team from every other team out there this year. Examples below:
- Trey Meyer, after getting crushed by Alex Johnson two years prior, fights at #1 singles against Dorn this year, while Johnson plays 5 and loses 0 and 0 to Chow.
- Felix Sun, after going three sets with Lane two years prior, defeats Lane in two routine sets today.
- Bryan Chow, going three sets 2 years prior, defeats Johnson 0 and 0 to clinch.
- Matt Micheli, routinely beaten by Erani two years prior, defeats Nik Marino in two straight sets today.
- Micheli, going three sets with the younger Putterman last year, defeats Ross in two confident sets this year.
- Chow again, after getting beaten handily by Chang last year, defeats Parizher 2 and 2 this year.
These are only five examples of the improvements that these seniors have shown over their careers. So, the question is, how does this happen? The answer is really clear to me. Over the past four years, this group of players have taken it upon themselves to improve every year. They have unmatched desire, drive, work ethic, practice habits, and commitment to not only the Williams program, but most importantly, each other. I had almost 0 doubt they would be champions this year. The reasoning is clear – when other teams regressed, this team improved. There is simply no other explanation for it. They went from Sweet 16 losers to 4th, to 3rd, to the best. They beat players they had previously lost to on the way. They kept practically the same lineup, despite bringing in new recruits. A common problem problem with recruiting is that older players begin to get complacent as new recruits come in during the middle years. This is clearly not the case for this Ephs team.
Overall, if it isn’t clear how to build a winning program after this article, then I’m not sure what is. Nowadays, DIII brings in a ton of top talent. However, you do not always get the attitudes needed with that talent to win the championship. This Williams team proved that it’s the perfect combination of team play, talent, and commitment to get to the top.
Congratulations, Williams – for an amazing 4 year run and the best feeling you could achieve in DIII Tennis.