CMS Stags Tennis staged a dramatic comeback to defeat #4 UC Santa Cruz 5-3 in the NCAA West Regional Final on Saturday. Sophomore Alex Johnson (Thousand Oaks, CA) fought back from a 1-5, love-forty deficit and saved six match points in the third set to provide the match clinching victory at #3 singles. CMS advances to the NCAA Elite Eight for the second straight year and third in the last four.
Exciting doubles play set the stage for what would become an epic battle with the Stags' biggest rivals. Cruz struck first at #3 doubles with an 8-3 victory to put the Slugs up 1-0. CMS' Alex Lane (So. - Claremont, CA) and Brandon Wei (Jr. - Lake Oswego, OR) got back an early break at #2 doubles and then stayed on serve to return at 6-7. Converting on their second match point, Lane and Wei's 22nd win of the year brought the dual match level at one all. With all attention now focused on #1 doubles, CMS' Zhenya Pereverzin (Fr. - Clackamas, OR) and Ronald Wu (Sr. Capt - Los Altos, CA) had failed to serve out the match at 7-6. Now serving at 7-8 to stay in the match, Pereverzin (serving) and Wu saved five match points before holding and forcing a decisive tie-break. Trailing 3-0 in the tie-breaker, they won three points to get to three-all. Down 5-3, they won three straight to earn their first match point with Pereverzin returning at 5-6 in the ad court. Pereverzin's low return created a chance to finish with a high forehand volley that clipped the top of the net and evened the score at six-all. Cruz's top team then won the next two points to give the Slugs a 2-1 match lead heading into the singles.
With a sizeable group of Stags Tennis alums, students, parents, and fans cheering them on, the Stags took to the singles courts eager to get CMS' first win at Santa Cruz in well over a decade. However, within thirty minutes of the first singles points played, the Stags found themselves down 6-2 at #1, 5-2 at #2, 6-2 at #3, and 6-3 at #4, with Wu returning to stay in the first set, down 6-5 at #5. Only Mac Cahill - playing #6 singles - had a lead, having taken his first set 6-3.
Facing an imminent demise, the Stags collectively raised their level and began to shift the momentum. Lane at #1 and Johnson at #3 got early breaks in the second set, while Wu broke back and then closed out a first set tie-break with serve-and-volley conviction. Meanwhile, Robbie Erani (Jr. - New York, NY) staged a spirited comeback from 2-5 down to win the first set 7-5 at #2, and Russell Brockett (Sr. - Austin, TX) took an early 3-0 lead in his second set at #4.
With the urgency of a senior on commencement day, Captain Wu closed out #5 singles in straight sets, and was followed closely by Cahill at #6, giving the Stags their first lead of the afternoon 3-2, and their first glimpse of victory. Erani then served out his straight set win at #2 singles to give the Stags a 4-2 lead, before Brockett fell in two sets to make the score 4-3.
Meanwhile Johnson at #3 found himself down 1-5, love-forty, and facing elimination, while Lane had battled to go up a break 4-3 in the third at #1. Johnson then proceeded to save three match points and hold serve for 2-5, then broke for 3-5, and saved another three match points on his serve to get to 4-5. At #1, Lane was broken for 4-all. Johnson then broke again for 5-all, but yet again faced three break points, only to hold again for his first lead at 6-5. With Santa Cruz's Pybas holding serve at #1, Lane prepared to serve at 4-5 to stay in the match. As he got down 15-40 and two match points at #1, Johnson got ahead 15-40 and two match points. Both servers won the next two points to even both courts at deuce. Lane saved his third match point, while Johnson saved a game point and then earned his third and fourth match points. On Johnson's fourth match point, two extending passing shots were too much for his opponent, as the Parker Larsen volley sailed wide to complete an improbable Alex Johnson comeback at #3.
Johnson's clinching win over Larsen was a repeat of 2010, where CMS won 5-3 at Biszantz to advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals. The Stags are now 27-3 overall and will face #8 Williams College in the NCAA Elite Eight. The NCAA Men's and Women's Division III Tennis Championships begin on Tuesday, May 24 at CMS' Biszantz Family Tennis Center.
#3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (5) vs. #4 UC
May 14, 2011 at Santa Cruz, CA (UC Santa Cruz Tennis Courts) - NCAA 3rd Round
1. Brian Pybas / Parker Larsen (UCSC) def. Zhenya Pereverzin / Ronald Wu (CMS) 9-8(6)
2. Alex Lane / Brandon Wei (CMS) def. Eric Rosner / Ian Stanley (UCSC) 8-6
3. Erich Koenig / Sam Rodgers (UCSC) def. Russell Brockett / Robbie Erani (CMS) 8-3
1. Alex Lane (CMS) vs. Brian Pybas (UCSC) 2-6, 6-2, 4-5 DNF
2. Robbie Erani (CMS) def. Erich Koenig (UCSC) 7-5, 6-4
3. Alex Johnson (CMS) def. Parker Larsen (UCSC) 2-6, 6-2, 7-5
4. Andre Halabi (UCSC) def. Russell Brockett (CMS) 6-4, 7-5
5. Ronald Wu (CMS) def. Sam Rodgers (UCSC) 7-6(2), 6-3
6. Mac Cahill (CMS) def. Yushi Ayabe (UCSC) 6-3, 6-3
Doubles: 3, 2, 1
Singles: 5, 6, 2, 4, 3