by Tom Utescher
The men’s tennis team at Chestnut Hill College repeated as runner-up in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference championships two weekends ago, hosting the event on its main campus courts.
Second-seeded CHC swept past the University of the Sciences, 5-0, in the semifinal round on Saturday, April 26, but succumbed by the same score in the finals the following day. Concordia College of Bronxville, N.Y., the sixth-ranked team in the nation in NCAA Division II, knocked off the Griffins to claim the conference crown for the fifth year in a row.
Standard college matches consist of six singles and three doubles bouts (with many athletes playing both), but in the championships, play is halted as soon as one team achieves the five victories needed to prevail in the best-of-nine format.
Two days before the tourney began, CHC completed the regular season with a 19-5 overall record thanks to a 7-2 win over the visiting University of the District of Columbia.
Griffins head coach Albert Stroble, wrapping up his eighth season heading the program, remarked “The thing I always preach is improving every day and playing our best at the end of the season. We certainly played well against Sciences in the semifinals, and we probably played even better in the finals, though we were facing a better opponent.”
Despite the setback in the conference championship match, Chestnut Hill was able to continue on into the NCAA Division II tournament, earning the third seed in the East Region.
Although the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments both take place in the spring, in the CACC, conference competition takes place in the fall for the women’s teams (including the CHC squad that is also coached by Stroble). The men play a few non-conference matches in the fall, and last autumn the Griffins went 3-1 in these tune-up bouts, losing only to powerful New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), 3-6.
During the first week of March, Chestnut Hill travelled to Florida to tackle some challenging Sunshine State squads.
Stroble related, “In most matches in our region, we weren’t really pushed, but that trip to Florida showed me something. When we were able to win 7-2 against Wayne State, which was ranked fifth in that region, that’s when I knew that we would have a good shot at going to Nationals.”
In the CACC tournament, as in the regular season, the doubles flights (each playing a single pro set) precede singles competition, and three victories in pairs play gave CHC the early advantage in its semifinal encounter with USciences on April 26.
The Griffins’ top duo of senior Yoann Pham and junior Steven Say won their pro-set, 8-2, and the same score was turned in at third doubles by junior Mike Humes and senior Manuel Ceniceros. Meanwhile, freshman Mariano Porter and senior Anthony Moore rolled at second doubles, triumphing by an 8-1 count.
Playing at fifth singles as well, Moore crafted another successful outcome for Chestnut Hill, as did sophomore Kevin Taylor in the sixth spot. Both breezed past their opponents, 6-0, 6-0.
With the Griffins now holding an insurmountable 5-0 advantage, the match came to an end. Porter, who hails from Cuernavaca, Mexico, had won his opening set at first singles when play was stopped, and Say and Humes were also up a set at the time, playing third and fourth singles, respectively.
Concordia had also advanced with a 5-0 semifinal victory, eliminating fourth-seeded Post University, of Waterbury, Conn.
The following day, CHC found itself on the short end of a 3-0 doubles result after the first phase of the final against the Clippers. However, while two of those matches ended with 8-1 scores, Porter and Moore hung in until Concordia’s Juuso Ojanen and Tomasz Olfans finally clinched the contest at 9-7.
Concordia then secured the 2014 conference crown by taking the second and third singles matches to collect the required fourth and fifth victories. When play concluded, Porter was locked up at 6-6 in the opening set of his match against Ojanen, the Clippers’ number one.
Although the Griffins must now look to future to capture their first conference championship, the overall success of the program has made the school able to attract more and more high caliber talent. As the new young stars arrive, though, some of the older players must yield their previous positions in the line-up.
“We’ve had guys who’ve been here four years who’ve had to take on some new roles as the new guys have come in,” Stroble said, “but that’s what happens with good teams that strive to improve. I think everyone adjusted well, and we continue to need the experience that the older players give us, and that competitive spirit. We’ve talked a lot about not giving in to a team that “on paper” is better than us, and that mindset is also a part of continuing to move forward.”
UPDATE – Last weekend in New York both the CHC men and women ended their seasons in the second round of the East Region tournament in the NCAA’s. The women, seeded fourth, opened with a 5-0 victory over number five Merrimack College, and the men (the third seed) reached the second round by topping sixth-seeded Adelphi University, 5-1. The two Chestnut Hill teams advanced to meet the top-seeded women and the second-seeded men of NYIT, and the Bears won those matches by scores of 0-5 and 1-5, respectively.