C.J. Williams helps Kenyon Win Indoor Championship
ST PETER, Minn. (Feb. 24): Courtesy of the ITA – Second-seeded Kenyon needed almost six hours, but the Lords eventually pulled off the 5-4 upset of top seed Emory on Sunday in the final of the ITA Division III National Men’s Team Indoor Championship on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College. Kenyon slipped behind 2-1 after doubles but managed to rally in singles play for its first national championship in program history.
Although Emory took the 2-1 lead into singles action, it appeared the Lords would be the team to have the early advantage. On court three, Kevin Ye and Wade Heerboth continued their outstanding play, sprinting out to a 5-0 lead before Jackson Isaacs and Will Adams could get on the board. Ye and Heerboth never let their level of play drop, taking the victory 8-3. The Eagles countered at the second position, as Alex Ruderman and Eric Halpern took a quick double-break advantage over Paul Burgin and Sam Geier. The Lords made a small push late, but it wasn’t enough, as Ruderman and Halpern won 8-4.
On court one, C.J. Williams and Tim Rosensteel turned a close match into an apparent rout for the Lords, winning four games in a row for a commanding 7-3 lead over Elliot Kahler and Ian Wagner. That gave Kenyon two opportunities to serve out the match for a 2-1 lead, but neither Williams nor Rosensteel could come through. In the end, a tiebreak would decide the victor, and it was Kahler and Wagner who came up with the big serves and volley winners to claim it for the Eagles.
The overall lead for Emory was short-lived, as Michael Razumovsky of the Lords cruised past Ruderman 6-2, 6-2. The next match off court was another Kenyon victory, this time from the third position. Heerboth won the first set handily 6-3 against Wagner, and held a break lead late in the second in a very similar situation to yesterday. Once again, he let the lead slip away, as Wagner leveled the set at 5-5 and eventually forced a tiebreak. Not wanting to be pushed to a third and see his team’s momentum fade, Heerboth prevailed seven points to five, giving the Lords a 3-2 lead.
“Going down 2-1 after doubles was obviously extremely difficult,” explained Kenyon head coach Scott Thielke. “Especially when you consider that we had three or four match points at one, serving for it at both 7-3 and 7-5. However, with yesterday and today, we certainly showed that we are fighters.”
The ebbs and flows of the match were far from over at that point. Emory’s Halpern looked to be in for a hard-fought two set victory against Burgin, taking the opening set 6-4 and continuing to put the pressure on Burgin, pushing him behind the baseline consistently. Fourth-ranked Burgin was struggling to find the range from the ground for most of the match, but he continued to rely on his defense to extend points, frustrating Halpern, who started to spray a few more balls late in the set, allowing Burgin to take it 7-5. The decisive set was a back-and-forth affair, as Halpern took a break advantage at 4-3, only to let it slip away in the next game. The Eagle would find a way to break again in the next game, this time making sure to put away Burgin, taking the match with a well-struck pass.
Halpern’s victory seemed to be the knockout punch to the Lords, especially when Rafe Mosetick defeated Rosensteel in straight sets at the fifth spot to push Emory’s lead to 4-3. As Mosestick was putting away the last few points, Kahler was up a set and a break against Williams on court four, putting the Eagles just a few games away from their third consecutive Championship crown. However, Kahler’s big serve did not hold up in the second set, as he was broken for 3-3, then again at love for a 5-3 lead in favor of Williams, who took the set by serving it out in the next game.
The amount of pressure on the third set between Kahler and Williams increased when Kenyon’s Ye delivered a comprehensive 6-0, 6-0 defeat of Emory’s Nicholas Szczurek, evening the overall score at 4-4. That match was off court with Kahler and Williams in the middle of the final set, with Williams up a break at 4-3. Kahler was continuing to miss with his big first serve, not earning the free points he needed. Williams pushed his lead to 5-3, earning the opportunity to serve for the championship at 5-4. However, Kahler would not go away easily, breaking serve to move the score to 5-5. Fittingly in a match as tightly contested as this one, a race to seven in a third set tiebreak would decide the champion. It was Williams who came through with the more aggressive plays on the key points, coming in behind any short ball to apply the pressure on Kahler. Williams let a mini-break lead slip away early in the tiebreak, but was able to hang on after going ahead 4-2, serving out the 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(4) triumph for the Lords.
“C.J. (Wiilliams) was in the same position he was in yesterday, and he came through for us twice,” stated Thielke. “Today both guys were extremely nervous in the final set, but C.J. played a tremendous tiebreak. Again, I think the experience of playing in the NCAA finals last season helped us out today. All six guys in our singles lineup today played in that match.”
The Championship’s third place match also took place on Sunday, with No. 6 seed Cal Lutheran taking down No. 5 seed Trinity 6-3. The Kingsmen displayed great doubles play all weekend, taking two of three from the Tigers for the 2-1 lead. Cal Lutheran received victories from Nick Ballou, who went undefeated at the top singles position for the tournament, and Ray Worley. Alex Nichols clinched the victory for the Kingsmen with his three-set win on court three.