CLAREMONT, Calif. – Amherst College finished as the national runner-up in 2009 and 2010, but the Lord Jeffs got over the hump with a dominant 5-2 win against top-ranked Emory on Thursday afternoon in the NCAA Division III Men's Tennis Championship team final.
Amherst won two of three doubles matches and quickly built a 4-1 lead thanks to some outstanding performances in singles play, but it was Mark Kahan who played the role of hero by finishing off his opponent in the No. 2 matchup. Kahan’s 18th consecutive win caused his teammates to storm the court, hoisting the NCAA trophy for the first time in program history.
The Lord Jeffs took the program to new heights in 2011. In addition to claiming its first NESCAC title since 1992 and its first NCAA crown, Amherst closed out the year with an unprecedented 36-1 record and will carry a 19-match win streak into the 2011-12 season. Emory finished at 24-4 after losing to a Division III opponent for the first time this year.
The trophy marks the eighth NCAA championship in school history. The men’s tennis team joins women’s tennis (1999), women’s lacrosse (2003), men’s basketball (2007), women’s cross country (2007), women’s ice hockey (2009, 2010) and women’s basketball (2011) in the elite group.
The Jeffs had been riding the success of their doubles teams throughout the postseason, and Thursday featured much of the same. Kahan and Chris Dale were the first to finish, defeating Dillon Pottish and Colin Egan at No. 3 by a score of 8-4, with Dale moving in for a winning shot that broke the Eagles. Moritz Koenig and Wes Waterman won by the same score at No. 2, giving Amherst a 2-0 lead with their victory against Noah Simonson and Ayush Bajoria.
Amherst’s Austin Chafetz and Luis Rattenhuber trailed 6-3 in the top matchup but rallied to tie things at 6-6. Chris Goodwin and Will Humphreys won the next point to pull ahead, but Rattenhuber once again tied the score with an ace. Emory took the next two games as Chafetz hit a volley into the net to make it a 2-1 contest heading into singles play.
Emory’s top three singles players entered the final with a combined record of 73-8 on the year, including an unblemished mark against Division III competition. The Lord Jeffs were unfazed by the Eagles’ top-ranked lineup, as Chafetz, Joey Fritz and Waterman each won their first set by identical 6-1 scores.
Fritz handed Amherst a 3-1 lead with a convincing 6-1, 6-2 win against Nick Szczurek at No. 4. Less than two minutes later Chafetz closed out a dominant performance at the third slot, as he lost only one game during his 6-1, 6-0 win against Egan.
Chafetz’s win left Amherst only one point away from the title, setting up another race among Kahan, Waterman and Andrew Jung, who had each built a comfortable second-set lead.
Jung held a 5-2 lead and Waterman was in the midst of a tiebreaker, but Kahan beat them both to the punch for his 18th consecutive victory. Before the Jeffs closed out the match, Pottish gave the Eagles their second point with a 6-4, 6-3 win against Rattenhuber in the No. 1 match.
The NESCAC has now claimed six of the past 13 Division III men’s tennis titles, with Middlebury most recently accomplishing the feat in 2010. Amherst returns all six singles players and five of the six doubles participants from Thursday’s title match in 2012.