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Leo Vithoontien rallies, advances to finals of the NCAA Championships

May 25, 2019 at 4:58 pm
Leo Vithoontien
Leo Vithoontien
Photo: Jeremy Kniffin

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Sophomore Leo Vithoontien (Bangkok, Thailand/Bangkok Patana School) is going where no Carleton College men’s tennis player has gone before… the title match of the NCAA Singles Championships. On Saturday, he cruised to victory in the quarterfinals and rallied in the semis to punch his ticket to the finals.

Vithoontien becomes the first Carleton tennis player—male or female—to compete for the NCAA national singles crown. Leslie Gale and Marcia Hunt advanced to the women’s doubles championship match in both 1990 and 1991, posting runner-up results each times.

Vithoontien, listed at No. 15 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s national rankings earlier this season, he has played much tougher as of late and now owns a 27-2 record this season. He carried over the momentum from his two straight-set triumphs on Friday to Saturday’s quarterfinal match as Vithoontien secured a 6-3, 6-1 victory over fourth seed and No. 6-ranked Ethan Hillis of Washington University-St. Louis.

That set up a semifinal contest against Bowdoin College senior Grant Urken, the defending national champion and the second seed in this year’s 32-player bracket.

Urken is one of the top servers at the tournament, while Vithoontien is regarded as one of the top returners.

“Unlike the final season of Game of Thrones, the semifinal battle live up the hype,” said Carleton head coach Stephan Zweifel.

Urken powered his way to a 6-2 win in the opening set and raced out to a 3-0 advantage in the second set before Vithoontien began his comeback.

The Carleton sophomore broke Urken and won four of the next five games to knot things up at 4-4. The 2018 champ took the next game to move in front, but Vithoontien responded by winning the next two games to build a 6-5 lead.

Urken responded by forcing a tiebreaker, but Vithoonitien wasted little time, jumping out to a 5-1 lead and quickly winning the tiebreaker by a 7-3 margin.

The third set was tied 2-2 before Vithoontien won the final four games to capture the match by a 2-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 tally. Match point came when Urken was unable to handle Vithoontien’s tough service return, hitting the ball into the net.

“That was possible the greatest comeback I have seen in almost 30 years of coaching,” said Zweifel.

Vithtoontien returns to the court for the final match of the tournament. His opponent is third seed Jonathan Jemison of Emory University. First serve is slated for 11 a.m. CT on Sunday, May 26, and fans will be able to follow the action via live video here and live scoring here.