BERLIN — Jack Morris felt a substantial weight on his shoulders Friday and didn’t shy away from the heavy lifting.
The U-32 senior found himself center stage at First In Fitness with the Raiders’ boys tennis match against Middlebury knotted at 3. He wasn’t paranoid to think that everyone was watching him because they actually were. After dropping a tight second set at No. 5 singles, Morris bounced back and never trailed in the tiebreaker to give U-32 a 4-3 victory.
“Jack is very observant and he’s always asking ‘Who did what? What’s everybody’s scores,’” U-32 coach Garrett Washburn said. “Last year he was mainly at No. 1 doubles, and he has been in that situation before with everything riding on his match. And he doesn’t like it. Today both teams were all on the court watching him. And I asked on one of the switchovers, ‘Do you want these guys to leave?’ And he said he wanted those guys there, so it was cool to see.”
Morris wound up outlasting Drew Kiernan, 6-3, 6-7(4), 10-4. Both players engaged in marathon rallies, leading to deuce points almost every game. Morris relied on lobs and well-placed winners to keep Kiernan guessing.
The Raiders earned all of their points in singles action, with Joe Franco, Basil Humke and Jacob Bradley setting the table for Morris. Franco triumphed at the No. 1 spot, coasting to a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Jesse Rubin. Two years ago, Franco injured his right hand and he was poised to be sidelined for the season, but he learned to play with his left hand and excelled at No. 5 singles. He returned to his dominant hand last year, moving up to No. 2 singles before taking over the top position in 2019.
“Joe has a unique style,” Washburn said. “He can play brick wall, but he hits with a lot of topspin too. And he mixes them up, so he’s multi-faceted. It’s confusing sometimes if you were to play him, because he’s going to adapt to whoever’s hitting with him.”
Basil Humke was all business at No. 2 singles, securing his team’s first point of the afternoon with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Spencer Doran. The Raiders veteran also moved up the lineup this spring, showcasing an uncanny ability to make returns on low-percentage shots.
“Basil has a very unorthodox, flying style,” Washburn said. “He’s just so fast that he gets to everything on the court. Even winners that you think are gone, they’re coming back over the net. He gets to so many things that you think should be done, and that gets in your head.”
Middlebury’s Sam Daly pulled out a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Owen Myka-Smith at No. 3 singles. Last year, Myka-Smith only dropped one match while competing at both the No. 4 and 5 positions.
“Owen plays with a lot of spin,” Washburn said. “Whether it’s topspin or backspin, he’s always got something on the ball. And that is hard for a lot of players to match up to. And he’s really fast when he wants to be, so he finds himself in a lot of long rallies.”
Bradley has been the biggest surprise this season for the Raiders. The cross-country running and Nordic skiing standout was formerly a middle- and long-distance runner for the track and field team, but he opted to give tennis a try this spring. Whatever he lacks in experience, he makes up for with raw power and athleticism on the court.
“Jacob doesn’t have the exact correct form yet, but by the end of the season he’s going to be golden,” Washburn said. “He has a hard first serve and it’s come a long way. And today it was on. He had quite a few aces, and he’s getting more comfortable with his ground strokes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Owen flip-flop at some points this season.”
Middlebury swept the doubles action, with Andy Giorgio and Bel Anderson triumphing at the No. 1 spot. They built an early lead and never slowed down, closing out a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Finn Olsen and Kayl Humke.
“Finn and Kayl played soccer together and they had some chemistry already,” Washburn said. “Finn wanted to play doubles, I like him better at doubles and it was just a natural fit. They shadow each other really well. Finn is a little bit better at the net with his put-away shots. And Kayl is definitely the verbal talker, which doubles needs.”
At No. 2 doubles, Aiden Cole and Oliver Poduschnick rallied to a 4-6, 7-6(2), 10-3 victory over Calen Kirkpatrick and Malone Bruce. Even though the Raiders fell short, they showed grit in the second set by nearly coming all the way back from a 5-1 deficit.
“At No. 2 doubles I have a first-timer with Malone Bruce, but he is very athletic,” Washburn said. “And Calen Kirkpatrick has a lot of spin, and then he also has some of the years behind him. So I think they match up really well. Anything Calen can’t get to, Malone can cover the court because he’s very fast.”
Middlebury falls to 3-2, while U-32 improves to 4-1. The Raiders will travel to play Montpelier at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
“This was good playoff prep,” Washburn said. “Middlebury was good all the way down through, and they had some players who could hit the ball really well. Even at No. 5 singles, that guy had a really strong serve. And one of their No. 2 doubles players had a really hard serve.”
Last year, U-32 made its first appearance in the Division I semifinals, suffering a 5-2 loss against Stowe. This season, 24-time champ South Burlington sits atop the standings with a 7-0 record, while Stowe (2-0), Rutland (8-1) and Essex (3-1) have also been strong. Regardless of where the Raiders end up in the playoff bracket, they won’t be intimidated by bigger schools or more established programs.
“These guys want a team championship this year, and that was a pretty unanimous thing as far as team goals,” Washburn said. “The hard thing is we don’t see those big teams until playoff time. But they just need to make sure they’re going out on the court and giving 100%. And I think they’ll be fine.”
Joe Franco (U) def. Jesse Rubin 6-1, 6-3 Basil Humke (U) def. Spencer Doran 6-1, 6-0 Sam Daly (M) def. Owen Myka-Smith 6-3, 6-4 Jacob Bradley (U) def. Hunter Munteanu 6-3, 6-1 Jack Morris (U) def. Drew Kiernan 6-3, 6-7(4), 10-4