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Boys’ tennis keeps perfect record intact

MIDDLEBURY — Thanks in part to a pair of dramatic tiebreaker wins on Monday, the Middlebury Union High School boys’ tennis team edged visiting BFA-St. Albans, 4-3, and in the process the Tigers maintained their perfect record and hold on first place in Division I.
Both No. 1 senior singles player Nick Holmes and No. 4 junior Owen Hammel won their first sets, lost their second sets and trailed late in the first-to-nine-point, win-by-two tiebreakers before rallying to win.
Hammel was not aware of it during his match, but the team win hinged on his performance. He and junior No. 5 Joao Pablo Ribeiro’s matches were the last two played, with the Tigers trailing, 3-2. During Hammel’s tiebreaker Ribeiro was successfully serving for his two-set victory.
And Hammel faced two match points with his opponent, Kristian Zivkovic, on serve at 8-7 and 10-9. But both times Hammel broke Zivkovic’s serve, and the second time Hammel put three dominant points in a row together to earn the clinching 12-10 win.
Holmes’ tiebreaker win also preserved his personal undefeated season. He breezed to a 6-1 first set win, but opponent Dan Barrow dominated the second set, 6-2. Holmes took an early 4-1 lead in his tiebreaker, but fell behind, 7-6, before fighting back for a 10-8 victory and the match.
Coach Ken Schoen noted Barrow defeated Holmes in 2015, but Holmes has worked to improve his groundstrokes and serve and is becoming more aggressive at the net.
“I was so proud of him at first singles. He’s improved so dramatically as a player,” Schoen said. “He’s also getting tougher and tougher mentally.”
Also remaining undefeated on Monday was the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Ben Silver and Max Mayone, who posted a two-set victory.
The Tigers’ work on the mental aspect of tennis is one thing that has helped them achieve success this season, and something Schoen said the Tigers talk about a lot at practice. Righting the ship when things are not going well, as Holmes and Hammel did on Monday, is one of the most difficult challenges the sport offers, for example.
“It’s all about their anxiety and not playing in a relaxed way (when things aren’t going well). It’s all about it getting into their heads and not judging themselves. I just work with them and say I want you to have a short-term memory loss about this. I want you to be focusing on the next point and what you need to do,” Schoen said. “Instead of focusing on what you feel you did poorly, you’re focusing on what you do moving forward. And that is key to switch that anxiety, starting to play not to lose as opposed to playing to win.”
The Tigers also overcame some other adversity to win on Monday. Senior No. 2 Jon Fitzcharles lost a competitive first set , then lost the match after injuring his ankle at the start of the second set. Also, undefeated freshman No. 5 Jesse Rubin was ill and could not compete.
Fitzcharles’ availability for a pivotal home match scheduled for Wednesday afternoon vs. U-32 was unknown. The 3-3 Raiders posed the last real obstacle to the Tigers’ perfect regular season, having played MUHS to a 4-3 match decided by a 15-13 Rubin tiebreaker victory on May 3. MUHS will also play at winless Harwood on Monday.
But Schoen remains confident in players who have put together a remarkable season.
“They’re very dedicated players. They take instruction very well, and they work hard at what they need to improve,” Schoen said. “They want to win, but not at all costs. They want to be better.”
Schoen also noted Rubin is one of a number of talented younger players on the team.
“We’re building something,” he said. “We’ve got a good core team for the next three or four years with what we’ve got going.”
Monday’s full results vs. BFA (3-7) were:
• At No. 1 singles, Holmes, M, defeated Barrow, B, 6-1, 2-6, 1-0.
• At No. 2 singles, Logan Mapes, B, defeated Fitzcharles, M, 7-5, 6-0.
• At No. 3 singles, Laurent Gagne, B, defeated Ziven McCarty, M, 4-6, 6-1, 1-0.
• At No. 4 singles, Hammel, M, defeated Zivkovic, B, 6-3, 2-6, 1-0.
• At No. 5 singles, Ribeiro, M, defeated Tyler Jobber, B, 6-2, 6-4.
• At No. 1 doubles, Silver/Mayone, M, defeated Parker Lambert/Jacob Newman, B, 6-1, 6-4.
• At No. 2 doubles, Danny Boyvens/Logan Bijolle, B, defeated Ryan Miller/Drew Kiernan, M, 6-2, 6-0.

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