Clutch play by Riley keeps streak alive

In the heat of battle, the College’s men’s tennis team was locked in a tight one with No. 28 Trinity College on Saturday, March 30. The match had come down to the final singles match, with senior T.J. Riley taking on Trinity’s Musyoka Mbithi. With the match on the line and Mbithi doing his best to make Riley uncomfortable, the senior came through with the win to lift his team to one of their biggest wins of the season.

“I wanted to do it for the team and get a big win to boost our case for a national ranking,” Riley said. “I also wanted to beat (Mbithi) really bad because he had been cheating me the whole match and I didn’t want him to weasel his way out of it.”

Riley notches the final point in the win over No. 28 Trinity. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

Along with Riley, sophomore Jack August and freshman Pierce Cooper picked up singles wins. August’s W showed true determination, as he got shut out in his first set 0-6, only to dominate the rest of the way, winning each of the final two sets by scores of 6-1.

“He is so good, you can never count him out,” senior Marc Nichols said. “You know he is going to compete at a high level no matter what, which is what we need from him and everyone else on the team.”

Doubles wins by the teams of Nichols and junior Howard Telson, along with freshman Billy Buchbinder and senior Jordan Cruz, by scores of 8-4 and 8-3, respectively, were enough to push the Lions (9-0) forward.

The Lions began the week by blanking Drew University 9-0 on Wednesday, March 27 in a dominant performance, with none of the singles matches going to a third set and none of the doubles matches lasting more than 11 games.

Nichols started the massacre with a 7-5, 6-2 win in first singles over Hunter Lathrop. Riley followed suit by defeating Djedjy Hill, 6-4, 6-2. August was even better, winning 6-1, 6-0, while Buchbinder won his match 6-2, 4-1 before his opponent retired.

The stories of the day, however, were Telson and Cooper. They were perfect in their singles matches, each knocking out the opposition by spotless 6-0, 6-0 marks.

“We stay mentally focused in those easy matches by working on certain things,” Riley said. “We will try new formations, new tactics, new shot selections and really try and work on things that we don’t typically do so that we can develop all aspects of our game.”

In doubles, the team of Nichols and Telson conquered the Rangers 8-1, Buchbinder and Cruz blew away their foes 8-2, and Cooper and Riley completed the sweep with an 8-3 victory.

The following day on Thursday, March 28, it was more of the same: the Lions could not be touched, as they beat Randolph-Macon College 8-0.

“The key is to make sure we don’t give them any opportunity to get in the match,” Nichols said. “After doubles, we just kept the foot on the gas pedal and didn’t give them anything.”

Riley and Cooper extended their winning streaks on the season to seven straight each, as they cruised to victory over their Randolph-Macon adversaries by scores of 6-1, 6-1, and 6-1, 6-0 respectively. Telson also got a win, 6-0, 6-1.

August, Buchbinder and Nichols completed the singles sweep once again by winning their individual matches. In doubles, the teams were switched around a bit, but still garnered three wins. Telson and Nichols once again won, while Buchbinder teamed up with Riley and Cooper paired with August. Both of those combinations were successful in their matches as well.

The Lions, who have their next game on Thursday, April 4 at 3:30 p.m. at Washington College, keep climbing higher and higher, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll come back to earth any time soon. This is something Riley attributes mainly to teamwork and optimism.

“We are 9-0 on the season and we’ve worked very hard to make each other better and the key is really positive thinking,” Riley said. “No matter what goes wrong or who is struggling, we all rally around that person and help him get through it and improve from there. The big thing is that we support each other.”