About the only thing missing on the resume of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps senior Larry Wang is a win at the NCAA Division III Championships. He went a long way in remedying that with two victories on the first day of the singles draw Friday at the Biszantz Family Tennis Center.
It is Wang’s fourth appearance in the national event and he failed to win a match the first three years. He entered this year’s event seeded No. 2 with the added pressure of playing on his home court.
But Wang delivered, coming from behind to defeat Steven Sullivan of Bowdoin 7-5, 6-2 in the round of 32, then advancing to the quarterfinals with a 5-7, 6-2 6-3 win over John Pelton of Hope College (Mich.).
Wang is the last hope for a local winner as freshman teammate Robbie Erani lost a three-setter to Ben Stein of Bates College 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.
The University of Redlands duo of junior Mike Reading and sophomore Cameron Spearman fell to the No. 4 seeded team of Zack Lerner and Moritz Koenig of Amherst College 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
“I was kind of nervous, playing on my home court and being our last hope,” he said. “I just needed to settle in and start playing my game. I was really just focused on the first round and getting past that.”
Wang trailed 5-3 in the opening set against Sullivan, but reeled off the next four to win the set. He cruised in the second.
His match later in the day was just the opposite. He surged out to a 4-1 lead in the opening set, then dropped five of the next six games with Pelton securing the set when Wang netted a forehand return.
Wang also got out to a 4-1 lead in the second set but didn’t falter at that point again. Pelton held serve to make it 4-2 but Wang held the next game, then got a set-ending service break when Pelton netted an overhead.
“He did a good job of adjusting to my game,” Wang said. “I just had to do a better job of executing my shots.”
Wang dominated the third set, getting the key break to go up 5-3 when Pelton returned a serve out. Wang then won his serve at love, closing out the match with an overhead as Pelton was running in.
Wang squares off against No. 5 seed Michael Goodwin of Emory (Ga.) today at 9 a.m. The two have played twice this season, splitting matches. Earlier in the week, Wang was named West Region Player of the Year while Goodwin was the South Atlantic Player of the Year, then nabbed the overall National Player of the Year honor.
“I’m going to have to bring my ‘A’ game and I can’t get off to a slow start,” he said.
UC Santa Cruz won the team title, beating Amherst 5-0. It was the seventh championship for the Banana Slugs who defeated CMS in the West Region final, preventing it from playing for the team title on its home court.
CMS coach Paul Settles had mixed feeling about that. Santa Cruz and CMS have played in the past four regional finals, splitting those. Both are consistently in the top five in the country, but playing in the same region prevents both from advancing.
“It’s frustrating because both of us deserve to be here. But that’s the way it is,” he said. “We all know the situation going in.”
While Wang is a veteran at nationals, both Redlands players were making their debut. The team is a relatively new one with Spearman transferring in from Nevada-Reno this season.
They came back from a one-set deficit to force a third. With the pivotal set tied at 3, the Amherst duo reeled off three straight games, winning the last at love and all the points coming on return errors by the Bulldogs. They finished the season 15-7.
“It was a great experience to come and play in championship environment,” Reading said. “It was nice to come back and make it a match. Both of us have big serves and we used that to get back in it.” “It takes time to build a rapport and a relationship,” Bulldogs coach Geoff Roche said. “This was a great showing for them to get this far in their first year playing together.”