Saturday, May 8 was a historic day for the Carleton Knights men’s tennis team as they took out both Bethel University and then Gustavus Adolphus College to become the MIAC representative in the 2010 NCAA Division III Championships. As the second seed in the MIAC tourney, the Knights received a first-round bye, resulting in the future of all their post-season hopes resting on this single day. Though they took on two different caliber teams, Carleton bested both their opponents with scores of 6-3, even though their semifinal match was a routine win, while their championship victory elevated them from underdog to notable status.
With their female counterparts locked in a battle since 9am with St. Olaf inside Gustavus’ Swanson Tennis Center, the men took the outdoor Brown Complex courts at 11:30. Strangely enough, the Knights faced some intermittent hail in addition to their opponents. Although the first doubles squad fell 8-4, second and third picked up the slack with matching 8-2 victories. In the singles round, shoulder injuries forced first singles Peter Dunn ’12 to retire and also hindered senior co-captain Colin Russell ’10, even though he was able to pull out a tight win. With the exception of third singles, the Knights dominated the rest of the Bethel lineup, and after a lunch break, set their sights on Gustavus.
With a large crowd fully expecting their Gusties to take the MIAC championship as they had done every year since 1988, with the exception of three loyal Carleton fans, Carleton went on to shock their spectators. With quick starts by all three Knights doubles teams, they set about proving themselves as strong competitors and a deep team. Russell and Austin Jiang ’13 made quick work even though the senior’s serve was reduced to a partially side-armed slice. The pairing of Winston Park ’10 and Dan Vollman ’12 brought their astonishing pace against Gustavus’ regionally ranked one doubles and took them down with the same 8-4 score by which they lost to their unranked Bethel opponents. Unfortunately, at second, Dunn and Paul Cooper ’13 were unable to capitalize on their 8-7 lead, and in a tiebreaker that went down to the wire they were defeated 7-4.
If freshman star Austin Jiang had any nervous energy going into his singles competition with his high school nemesis, he definitely did not show it because Jiang displaced him succinctly 2 and 2 and was off the court seemingly in seconds. With the Knights leading 3-1, they only needed to secure two more points for the upset of the ages. With grim expressions on the faces of Gustie fans, the Knights stayed completely calm and accepted their challenge, as the pressure was completely resting in the tense trapezius muscles of their opposition. As Alex Chin ’13 was leading in his second set, Carleton’s fourth point was clinched by sixth singles Cooper, known for his ability to pull through tight matches, by a final score of 7-5, 6-4. Following suit, Chin’s hard and flat groundies kept his opponent constantly on the run and, after painting quite a few lines, won him the match 7-5, 6-3.
This clinched what had been an inconceivable victory for the Knights over a dumbfounded perpetual first seed, and as the remaining players still in the middle of their contests learned the news of their team’s triumph, they just did what they needed to do to get off the court and celebrate. Park fought valiantly through back spasms to take his opponent to three sets after losing to him 6-0, 6-0 in their previous encounter, but the pain began to hinder his movement, and he lost 6-2 in the third. As for Russell, he as well was locked in a battle of a second set after taking the first 7-5, and keeping his composure he finished off the second with some crafty play, though he made it more interesting than it needed to be (he didn’t finish off a 6-0 tiebreaker lead, but rather pulled it out 7-5). Number one singles was the last on the court, and Dunn, rather than continue to be stuck in a close third, lost the set 6-3 because it no longer held any meaning to him. He dashed into the arms of his accomplices in this feat, and celebration with these ecstatic teammates followed.
In the NCAA tournament, the Knights will play their first rounds at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater this weekend with what could be a series of 9am matches if they keep their streak alive. Their first contest on Friday should prove to be a good warm-up match for some very tough opponents later in the weekend, and Carleton men’s tennis hopes to bring every ounce of their competitive spirit to perhaps pull off some more upsets on Saturday and Sunday.
-Kathryn Schmidt is a member of the Women’s tennis team.