Tiger boys dodge raindrops, Raiders

MIDDLEBURY — The improved 2011 version of the Middlebury Union High School boys’ tennis team moved to 2-0 on Monday, when the Tigers defeated visiting U-32, 4-0, in a rain-shortened match.
A year ago, a Tiger team with only eight players often had to forfeit either a singles or a doubles match against each opponent finished 3-11. This year, Coach Franz Kollas’s team doubled in size to 16 and has healthy competition up and down the ladder for spots.
And many of the veterans who have stuck it out for the past three years have improved, making the team more competitive.
“We have a good team,” said Kollas, a local teaching pro. “A lot of them have been here since they were freshmen, and now they are juniors, maybe two seniors. And they’re seasoned. They have a lot of matches under their belts in the three years. Now they can play pressure situations … and play smart. They’re playing smarter.”
It also helps that Argentinean study-abroad junior Fabrizio Arce has established himself as the Tigers’ top singles player, which has had a ripple effect down the singles ladder and made up for the graduation loss of 2010 No. 2 Brady Hemenway.
“Fabrizio has been nice to have at (No.) 1,” Kollas said.
Although Monday’s final score on increasingly rain-slick courts looks one-sided at first glance, three of the four matches were highly competitive.
Only steady junior No. 4 Jimmy Fitzcharles had a relatively easy time of it, dispatching U-32’s Zach Fielder, 6-2, 6-3.
In the No. 1 singles match, Arce outlasted Alden Hopkins, 6-4, 7-5. Hopkins took a lead in the second set, but Arce had both a stronger second serve and more ability to hit winners, and rallied from down a service break to prevail.
The No. 1 doubles match between the Tiger team of lanky junior Matt Podraza and quick sophomore Caetano Hanta-Davis and U-32’s Colin Nealon and Matt Coignon was even tighter: The Tigers won, but only by 7-6, 7-6, and also had to rally in the second set. Ultimately, Podraza and Hanta-Davis’s ability to establish themselves at the net and hit enough volley winners proved to be the difference, including on match point.
And the closest match of all came at No. 2 singles, where Tiger senior Ben Marshall and Raider Luke Larose locked up in a three-set duel. The power-hitting Marshall won the first set, but Larose out-steadied him in the second set, 6-2.
Larose also took leads of 5-4 and 6-5 in the third set, but Marshall focused to find his consistency and held serve each time to force a tiebreaker. By then, the coaches had agreed that the team match would end regardless of the outcome of the tiebreaker, and would be completed if necessary on the Raiders’ home court later in the spring if Marshall didn’t prevail.
But Marshall then took command early in the rain-soaked tiebreaker, including with a big forehand winner that caught the back line and that Larose applauded. Marshall held on for a 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5) victory that gave the Tigers the 4-0 win on Monday.
Two other Tigers held first-set leads when play was halted. No. 3 Connor Gross, a junior, led, 3-2, and No. 5 Mitch Wulfman, a senior, was up, 2-1.
Kollas said he expects some more success down the line this spring, also partly because the he and the Tigers are having a good time and enjoying themselves.
“I think they’re having fun,” he said. “It’s just a more relaxed season, and I think they feed off that energy.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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