Tennis Downs Denison at NCACs


OC Athletics

Junior Manickam Manickam completes a forehand follow-through. The Yeomen completed their season with a 5–2 victory over Denison University in the third-place match of the NCAC Tournament.

Julie Schreiber, Sports Editor

Oberlin tennis earned exhilarating back-to-back victories over rival Denison University Big Red, as both the men’s and women’s teams won their Sunday matches to finish third in the North Coast Athletic Conference Championships. The Yeomen made program history with their 5–2 win, beating the Big Red for the first time in 43 years, while the Yeowomen finished their season on a win for the first time since 2014 with a 5–4 victory.

Oberlin’s men’s team was led by its seniors, who demonstrated a team transformation by finishing third after having been the lowest-ranked team in the NCAC during their freshman years. Senior captain Ian Paik fittingly sealed the victory with his 6–7, 7–6, 6–4 come-from-behind win at No. 1 singles.

“Ian really outplayed his opponent with the team match on the line,” said Head Coach Eric Ishida. “I was proud to see Ian and the rest of the team play some of the best tennis of their careers in the NCAC tournament.”

Paik earned the first and last wins of the day, as he and junior Michael Drougas kicked off doubles with an 8–3 win at the No. 2 spot. The veteran team lasted through long rallies, used a two-back formation to their advantage and got the Yeomen momentum going. At No. 1, the hard-hitting team of first-year Stephen Gruppuso and senior Jeremy Lichtmacher stayed fired up and delivered an 8–6 victory. Denison soon fought back, however, as the Big Red’s No. 3 pair beat senior Abe Davis and junior Levi Kimmel.

Paik said the team felt the pressure after doubles as the match score sat at 2–1.

“The match had the potential to be very close,” he said. “But [we knew] if we could get a doubles lead the rest of our day would be a lot easier. I think that we felt pretty confident as a team. Stephen had been playing well all weekend, Michael was prepared to play against [Denison’s] Jamie [McDonald], and Abe had been playing as well as he had all year.”

Denison rocked Oberlin’s confidence at the start of singles, however, earning the first point,as Oberlin’s Manickam Manickam fell in the 5 spot 6–3, 6–0. With the match tied 2–2, Oberlin needed three more wins.

First-year Stephen Grupposo soon delivered, earning a convincing 6–3, 6–1 victory. Grupposo finished the season an unbeaten 2–0 in NCAC singles play and posted an impressive 21–5 singles record for the season.

Next, junior Robert Gittings followed suit, pulling out a key 2–6, 6–3, 6­–0 win.

The stage was set for a victory, and Paik delivered the final point. Ishida said he was proud to see Paik and the other seniors go out on top.

“We will miss our seniors very much,” he said. “Ian, Jeremy, Abe, Paul [Farah] and Billy [Lennon] are all awesome guys and contributed so much to Oberlin Athletics.  They have been the foundation of this program for four years.”

The Yeomen finished the season at a program-best 16–10 overall and 2–1 in the NCAC. As of the end of the season, Oberlin was ranked No. 11 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Region.

Earlier in the day, the Yeowomen took to the courts looking to avenge Saturday’s tough loss, in which the Yeowomen were blanked 5–0 by No. 1 seed DePauw University in the NCAC semifinals. The team’s desire to turn its luck was compounded by its rivalry with the Big Red.

“We’ve had a lot of close matches with Denison over the years,” senior captain Olivia Hay said. “But we didn’t play them this year during the regular season, so I think walking on court on Sunday, everyone was really excited to be there and ready to compete.”

The Yeowomen took early leads in all three doubles matches. At No. 2, the net-rushing pair of senior Olivia Hay and first-year Delaney Black notched a decisive 8–2 win. Hay said the pair’s chemistry was at an all-time high in this battle.

“Delaney and I have improved a lot this season as a doubles team,” she said. “It was really great to see everything come together in this match.”

Meanwhile, on court 3, first-year Lena Rich used her lofty lob to push back her Denison opponents as Mayada Audeh closed off the net for consistent put-aways. The pair’s smart play propelled them to an 8–3 win. All eyes then turned to the No. 1 match, where Oberlin’s leading pair of senior Emma Brezel and Sarah Hughes had lost their lead. The duo, ranked No. 4 in the ITA Central Region, eventually fell 8–5 to the region’s second-ranked pair, Denison’s Lauren Hawley and Emma Alsup.

Despite ending on a loss, Hughes and Brezel put together one of the winningest No. 1 doubles seasons in program history. The pair’s 19–9 season included a mid-season 12-match win streak.

In singles play, Oberlin earned the first win as Mayada Audeh earned a quick 6–2, 6–1 victory at No. 3. But the tide then started to turn, as Brezel and first-year Lena Rich both fell in straight sets at the two and four spots, respectively. A point from Hughes allowed the Yeowomen to recover. At No. 1, Hughes delivered a straight set 6–2, 6–4 smack down.

With Oberlin up 4–3, junior Jackie McDermott was unable to deliver the decisive point. After falling in the first set, McDermott seemed poised for a comeback in the second, but lost a second-set lead. She eventually fell 6–3, 7–5.

With the match at 4–4, all eyes then turned to court 6, where first-year Rainie Heck was locked in a third set battle to decide the match. Heck and her Denison opponent, Carol Vitellas, grounded out long points, mixing high deep balls with sliced short balls. Heck eventually earned a momentous 6–4 win in the third, as her teammates rushed on court to celebrate.

“Running to Rainie to congratulate her and celebrate her when she won was the best moment of the weekend,” Rich said. “I felt so proud to huddle up with her and the rest of the team right after our third place win.”

The Yeowomen complete their season at 13–12 overall and 2–1 in conference play. Battling 10 nationally ranked teams throughout the 2017 campaign, the squad concludes the year with a No. 36 rank among Division III participants and No. 8 rank in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Region.