Men’s tennis on the right track early with DII upset
“We’ve lost to them I don’t even know how many times in a row, so we’ll definitely be looking forward to that match,” said sophomore Tim Noack of the No. 3 Washington University men’s tennis team before last Sunday’s matchup against Division II Drury University. After three losses to the Panthers in the past three seasons, Noack and the Bears finally found the result they were looking for.
By getting off to a good start in doubles and taking three of the four final singles flights, the team knocked off No. 19 Drury to win its second match of the spring season.
“In the past, it’s been the first match of the season, and maybe we haven’t been mentally ready. This year we had [Division II] McKendree [University] to open the season, which was a good confidence booster for us,” sophomore Max Franklin, one half of the winning No. 3 doubles pair, said. “I feel like that provided us with a chance to get settled in, get the season started, get kind of mentally focused.”
The team got the start it needed as Franklin and senior Cameron Chiang took No. 3 doubles 8-3, and the top pairing of junior Adam Putterman and freshman Ross Putterman emerged with an 8-5 victory. Despite junior Kareem Farah and freshman Kevin Chu dropping a close 8-6 match at No. 2, head coach Roger Follmer had a good feeling heading into singles.
“We had to be up 2-1 or 3-0 to make it happen this time around, and we had pretty competitive doubles across the board,” Follmer said. “We got the start we wanted by going up 2-1.”
After Adam Putterman and Ross Putterman dropped No. 1 and 2 singles, respectively, the remainder of the Bears’ singles lineup came up huge. Noack won easily at 6-1, 6-2 in sixth singles, junior Bryan Haywood took fifth singles 6-1, 6-4, and in the final match of the contest, junior Gary Parizher came from behind for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 win that gave the Bears a 5-4 victory on the day.
“We were obviously really excited. We’d never beaten Drury. Gary, No. 3 this year, won it for us, like he did a couple of times last year,” Franklin said.
Despite the close match and facing a school that they’d struggled with in the past, Follmer insisted that the Bears didn’t feel under too much pressure against a strong Division II school.
“It’s kind of more pressure on [Drury]. They’re the scholarship institution,” Follmer said. “There’s always going to be some kind of pressure, pride, whoever you’re playing. But in particular I think it’s a little easier for us to swing away knowing a school like them or a school like [Division I Saint Louis University] has scholarship athletes.”
While the players were excited, they managed to keep the victory in perspective.
“Once we got over the initial thrill of winning…the biggest goal of the season isn’t to beat Drury,” Franklin said. “That’s one aspect of our goals. Look ahead, and we’ve got nationals in two weeks.”
Still, the progress that the team has made early on in the spring season is impressive. Replacing graduated seniors and team captains such as Isaac Stein and Max Woods is no small task, but the Bears have managed to do so and to win over a team they had never beaten before. Follmer says that the win reflects the progress the program has made.
“I think you’re seeing a pretty good foundation. Something’s taking place; people are stepping up,” Follmer said in reference to how the team replaced Stein and Woods as well as individual national champion John Watts the year prior. “There’s an expectation that the program will continue getting better, no matter who graduates; [that] is where I think we’re at right now.”
And with the importance that Follmer places on doubles, Franklin said that the pairings on the court are working very well together.
“I feel like our doubles are a lot stronger and our teams are more cohesive than they might have been last year or are closer to what they were when we won the national championship three years ago,” he said.
While the team has started off on the right foot against a pair of tough teams, another key measuring stick will be presented next weekend as the team heads to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., to take on several Division III powers at the ITA National Indoor Championships.
Follmer hopes to have a better idea of how good his team can be after playing in a different setting and facing off against high-quality Division III teams.
“It was a nice win over the weekend, [but it’s] still a little too early to say,” Follmer said. “We played two schools where we really had nothing to lose, and now we’ll have to stack up against some of the best teams in DIII next weekend.”
Until then, the Bears will continue to work out the little parts of their game and not worry about the competition that looms ahead.
“We played [them all] twice last year. We know kind of what to expect,” Franklin said about the opposition, specifically mentioning potential opponents in the University of Chicago, University of California-Santa Cruz and Emory University. “Our focus is more internal, and we have to take care of what we can control and let everything else play out. If we prepare well and stay focused and do what we know what we can do, everything will work itself out, and hopefully the wins will pile up and the losses won’t.”
The Bears have never won an indoor national championship, but precedent hasn’t stopped them yet this year. The team hopes it will continue to do things it hasn’t in the past.
“I’m really curious to see how they handle the moment,” Follmer said.