2023 NCAA Championships: Middlebury, CMS win thrilling D3 men's quarterfinals

Victoria Chiesa | May 13, 2023

After two days of Division II play at the USTA National Campus, Division III joined the tennis festival at the 2023 NCAA Championships on Saturday, and the action did not disappoint. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College and Middlebury College both won thrilling 5-4 quarterfinal matches to reach the semifinals.


Fourth-ranked Middlebury earned a come-from-behind victory thanks to the bottom of its singles lineup; after losing two of three matches in doubles and the top-two singles matches, the Panthers won at flights three through six to take victory. Sophomore Neel Epstein, a native New Yorker, clinched the match with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph in the third slot.


“It was a fun match to be a part of and it was great to see the energy and heart that our team played with, especially when making such a big comeback in singles," Middlebury head coach Andrew Thomson said. "Our team is capable of winning at each and every spot, and each match seems to bring out a new magic moment for another player.”

Meanwhile, CMS won two of the three doubles matches, but were staring down defeat after losing No. 1, No. 2 and No. 6 singles. 


But junior captain Ian Freer, of South Pasadena, Calif., and first-year Warren Pham, of Yorba Linda, both came back from a set down for three-set wins to take the final two points of the match. Freer leveled the action at 4-4 with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win over Jared Phillips at No. 3 singles, and Pham played hero for the Stags with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Colin Scruggs at No. 5 to wrap it up. 


CMS will next face Tufts University for a spot in the final. It's a rematch of last year's quarterfinals, which Tufts won 5-3, and the Jumbos also won when the two teams played this March, 7-2.


Middlebury will face Case Western Reserve University in the other semifinal. That match, too, is a rematch from a year ago: CWRU beat Middlebury 5-1 in last year's semis, before losing to the University of Chicago in the final. 

Ian Freer. Photo by Manuela Davies/USTA.
Chalk rules in Division II women's semifinals for Top 4

Like the men a day before them, the Top 4 seeds in the Division II women's tournament are also through to the semifinals after wins on Saturday evening. Three of them—top seeds Barry, No. 2 seeds Nova Southeastern and No. 3 seeds Hawaii Pacific—won their matches 4-0, but fourth-seeded Flagler College was tested in a 4-2 win over Washburn (Kan.) University. 


The match came down to two of the best players in the nation: Flagler senior Luisa Hrda, the 2023 Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year ranked fourth in the ITA's Division II national rankings, beat second-ranked Washburn senior Sonia Smagina, her counterpart in the MIAA, to clinch the win. Hrda dropped the first set in a tiebreak, but rallied for a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 triumph.


Hrda chipped in two points in triumph, as she and her partner, Dana Heimen, also captured a tiebreak set at top-flight doubles to give the Saints' the doubles point. Flagler, now 22-4, set a school record for wins in the process. 

"Today was a team win," Flagler head coach Rod Puebla said. "From a comeback doubles point, to cheering on Lu for the match-winning point, I am beyond proud of this team for making history today."

Luisa Hrda. Photo by Conor Kvatek/USTA.

Flagler will be the next foes for the five-time defending champions and top seeds Barry, as the Bucs extended their winning streak to a staggering 88 matches over the last four years with a 4-0 blanking of No. 9 seeds Cameron.  


"Doubles got a little bit tighter than we wanted to, especially at No. 2 doubles, where we missed some opportunities to break it open and win easily," Bary head coach Avi Kigel said. "That's what tennis is all about; we didn't win a couple of deuce points, but I’m very happy we were able to win the important points and get the doubles point. It's always really good to start the singles when you know you're 1-0 up; it gives you a little energy, a little bit of confidence, [and we] definitely played really well in singles.


"Score shows 4-0, but it wasn't as easy as the score shows. Very happy with the way we played today, we know we can play better next match and that's what we're looking forward to."

The Division III women will take the court on Mother's Day in the national quarterfinals, while the four remaining Division II men's teams will play their semifinals: No. 1 seeds Valdosta State University face No. 4 Barry, while No. 2 seeds Columbus State University face No. 3 UIndy. 


For more information, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's NCAA Championships homepage.

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