Athletic Director Tim Ryan: A Few Days in Kalamazoo

Tim Ryan '98

Tim Ryan ’98

Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan ’98 reflects on the trip taken with Bowdoin’s men’s and women’s tennis teams to the NCAA Division III Championship in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the men’s team would emerge victorious.

 

 

 

In my role as director of athletics at the College, I am incredibly fortunate to support our athletic programs throughout the course of the year in a number of ways with the assistance of members of our athletic training, equipment room, sports information, strength and conditioning, and administrative staff.  We all have an opportunity to witness firsthand the incredible accomplishments of our students in their athletic pursuits, while also getting to know our amazing students well away from the field, court, course, track, and pool as they prepare to be the next great generation of leaders in our country and abroad.

The five days I recently spent in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with our men’s and women’s tennis teams serve as an excellent microcosm of our work with these remarkable students and the support they receive from the entire Bowdoin community, and as I fly home to Maine, I write to share an inside look at a trip that resulted in our first national semifinal appearance by our women’s program and our first national championship by our men’s program.

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Click image to read the summary of match highlights.

My Kalamazoo experience began on Saturday by finishing the proctoring of an economics final exam for two members of our men’s team who would, unknowingly at the time, figure prominently in our winning a national championship on Wednesday afternoon. Gil Roddy ’18, Kyle Wolfe ’18 and I would be the last of our men’s and women’s travel party to arrive in Michigan, and as we left campus for the Portland airport, there was little talk about tennis, but rather, an in depth breakdown of the exam was convened, complete with relief from shared, believed to be correct answers, and one or two heathy debates regarding formulas originally covered early in the semester.  This would be the first of many examples of our community coming together to support our students, as accommodations provided by Assistant Professor of Economics Gonca Senel with Gil and Kyle’s exam schedule allowed for our team to be intact for championship events on Sunday in advance of our first match on Monday morning.

Monday – Two Remarkable Victories

Following a thoughtful and inspiring speech by Chase Savage ’16 at the NCAA Championship banquet on Sunday evening, our men’s team would be first to compete on Monday morning. Long before the match would begin (6 a.m.) Head Coach Conor Smith, Athletic Trainer Ashley Stambolis, Kyle Wolfe (number-two singles and doubles) and Aidan McGrory ‘19 would rise for a morning hitting session to see if Kyle, who had been in a walking boot since our Sweet 16 win over MIT last Sunday, would be able to compete. The verdict on Monday morning would lead to only singles play for Kyle and we optimistically moved forward with a number-two doubles team that had not played together all year as the team arrived to warm up for our match against Johns Hopkins (number-six singles player Grant Urken ’19 would get the call for doubles play—more on this below).

Click image to view a slideshow of photos from Kalamazoo.

Click image to view a slideshow of photos from Kalamazoo.

With about twenty minutes until the start of the match, a loud “Sammy Ray!” could be heard across the courts—a tennis welcome from one of our players for Sam King ’14, who was making his way into the stadium with Associate Director of Career Planning Todd Herrmann ’85, as they had recently flown from Maine to Michigan to support the team. As you likely have read on GoUBears.com, the team fell behind 3-0 to Johns Hopkins following doubles (typically an insurmountable deficit), but was inspired by a quick, gutsy, straight set win by Kyle at number-two singles, which was then followed by wins at number-three, -five and -six singles before first-year Jerry Jiang punched the Polar Bears ticket to the national semifinals in a thrilling, three-set win in a 7-5 tiebreaker at number four.

However, what you would have only seen if you were in Kalamazoo was Pete Seaver ’64, a longtime resident of Kalamazoo, who was inspired by an early morning call from a classmate to “get over there and support Bowdoin,” our entire women’s team, Todd, Sam and parents from both the men’s and women’s team joining with our men’s team to celebrate a hard-fought win that truly showed our team possessed the heart and character of a champion. Everyone in attendance will never forget the match, the heartfelt sweaty hugs they received from a group of excited and relieved Polar Bears, or Coach Smith looking like he had aged five years as all of our attention turned to our women’s team, who would take the courts in a national quarterfinal match in less than four hours.

While Ashley worked to put our men’s team back together following an emotional match played in unseasonably warm temperatures and began the process of loosening up our women’s team for their match against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, I was left to marvel at what had just occurred while squeezing in a quick sandwich from Jimmy John’s, which would become a second home and lucky charm for our teams in Kalamazoo (at least six meals by our teams in four days…if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it…). Our women’s match began with the same parent and alumni support felt by our men earlier in the day, and members of our men’s team were vocal supporters during doubles play, which helped our Polar Bears break out to a 3-0 lead over CMS, a team we had never beaten in the history of our program.  If asked, I would have to admit the paralyzing thought of possibly losing a match after going ahead 3-0 after what had occurred in our men’s match a few hours ago did go through my mind, but thankfully (and much more importantly) that was not the case with the women wearing the white and black on Monday afternoon.

As darkness settled in on the courts and lights on adjoining courts were turned on, Joulia Likhanskia ’17 gave Bowdoin a 4-1 lead with a straight-set win at number-one singles and matches at number-two, -three, -five, and -six entered pivotal third sets. With lengthy battles set to unfold on several courts, sophomore Samantha Stalder won the third set in her match at number five and following a sportsmanlike post-match handshake with her opponent, a jubilant group of Polar Bears converged on her court to celebrate our advancement to face Williams in a national semifinal match.  The team quickly gathered (most of…) their belongings and headed to the hotel for a post-game meal at which they were joined by their parents, Sam and Todd, former players Susanna Howard ’14 and Kate Winingham ’14, who drove from Chicago to watch the match, and head coach of our men’s team, Conor Smith.  Conor’s arrival at dinner was symbolic of the truly remarkable relationship between our men’s and women’s programs, which is rooted in the outstanding relationship between our head coaches and is uncommonly supported by every member of both of our programs.

Tuesday – A Split Decision

Conor, Kyle, Aidan, and Ashley had another early morning hitting session prior to our men’s match with number-one ranked Emory at 8:30 on Tuesday morning, and again it was decided Kyle would only play singles in our semifinal match. Our match moved to an incredible on-campus tennis facility at Kalamazoo College, the hosts for the tournament, which featured a large grandstand unlike any either of our teams had played in before. Our men fell behind 2-1 after doubles, which seemed like a victory in itself after our grueling match on Monday, and with the start of singles play our guys knew we were four singles victories away from a berth in the national championship match. Gil Roddy and Grant Urken gave our team two quick singles points at five and six, respectively, which was followed by a huge, come-from-behind win at number-one singles by “Big” Luke Tercek (originally down 5-0 in the first set before falling 6-4, Luke went on to win the second (6-3) and third (6-1) sets).

A Big Welcome Home to the Victorious Men’s Tennis Team from Bowdoin College on Vimeo.

If you follow @goubears on Twitter, you are familiar with #trinkatime, and it proved to be #trinkatime once again as senior co-captain and winner of the 2016 Athletic Department Wil Smith Community Service Award Luke Trinka closed out the match with a straight-set victory (second set tiebreaker 7-4) at number-three singles.  Just prior to the end of Luke’s match, Kyle had lost a three-set match at number two after losing the first set 6-0 and rallying to win the second set 6-3 following a repair job to his heavily taped ankle by Ashley between sets. Following the match, Kyle was on crutches and his participation in Wednesday’s championship match was uncertain, but the team was ecstatic with the victory as they headed for Jimmy John’s and some much needed nourishment.

By this point I felt a little bit like I had played a couple of three setters myself and as I returned to my lucky seat in the grandstand for the women’s match I allowed myself to get greedy with the thought of possibly having two teams playing for national championships on Wednesday. Unfortunately, our women’s team fell behind 3-0 after doubles play and was unable to overcome this considerable deficit against Williams. In defeat, the team showed incredible heart once again, as first year Sarah Shadowens and Sophomore Tess Trinka (the younger half of #trinkatime) forced third sets, Kyra Silitch ’17 battled in a lengthy one set tiebreaker loss in an uncompleted match at number three, Samantha Stalder lost a highly competitive tiebreaker at number five before falling in straight sets and senior captain Tiffany Cheng displayed the determination and class she showed throughout her entire career while losing a straight set match at number two. It certainly was sad to see the season come to an end for such a wonderful group of women, but as I watched our team receive their individual awards, our national semifinalist trophy and the ensuing post-match talk with our coach, Hobie Holbach, it was clear to me that while this was a difficult day, there are wonderful things in store for this inspiring, passionate and truly hilarious group of students.
Wednesday – A Well Deserved National Championship

Wednesday morning started much earlier than originally planned with a 2:30 am phone call and subsequent text message exchange with Ashley, who was at the local hospital with senior co-captain, 2016 Athletic Department Outstanding Male Leadership Award winner and number-three doubles player, Chase Savage, who had fallen ill following our team dinner on Tuesday evening. Given Ashley’s work on Kyle’s foot throughout the week, this seemed like an unbelievable turn of events in the hours leading up to our national championship match against a team that had defeated our program during the regular season and in the NESCAC Championship match. Ashley and Chase returned to the team hotel at 6 a.m., just in time for Ashley to partake in a quick nap before heading off for another, and increasingly more important, morning hitting session with Kyle, Aidan, and Conor.

After a brief meeting at 7 a.m. with Chase, it was decided he would not be able to compete, and that for the second time in three days, our men’s team would enter a critical match with a new doubles pairing, this time at number three, with the aforementioned Grant Urken ’19 partnering with his second new partner in Kalamazoo, Gil Roddy. Kyle, who had not played both doubles and singles in our quarterfinal or semifinal matches would attempt to play in both matches in the national championship match. The decision-making process was truly a collective effort between Coach Smith, Chase, Kyle, and Ashley, as Coach Smith needed to make the right decisions based upon the health of our students, and subsequently, the right adjustment to our championship match lineup (all within three hours of the first serve). Hours later, as Chase arrived to watch the match moments before the start of introductions, his presence was welcomed with the sound of familiar crosscourt cheers from his teammates and I thought, “this could be our day.”

The rest is history and will live forever on GoUBears.com as the team broke out to a 3-0 lead after doubles, experienced #trinkatime yet again with a win at number-three singles and sophomore Gil Roddy sent Polar Bear nation into a frenzy with a straight-set win at number five. There are so many memories that I will take with me from our time in Kalamazoo—the incredible efforts by our students and coaches, the behind-the-scenes and critically important work by our athletic trainer, Ashley Stambolis, the laughs with students, coaches, parents, and alumni at post-game meals, the arrival of men’s tennis alumni Eric Chien ‘14, Chris Lord ‘14, Kent Winingham ’12, and Kyle Wolstencroft ‘15 from across the country on Wednesday morning to provide much needed backup vocal support during the national championship match for an exhausted and voiceless Sam King, the pure joy on the faces of our students after the national championship winning point, the smile emulating from a post-Powerade bucket bath head coach Conor Smith, the pride in Bowdoin tennis and sincere happiness for the success of a longtime colleague by women’s coach Hobie Holbach, and my heartfelt post championship match hug with travel partner and newfound friend, Gil Roddy.

However, the memory I will smile about most often in the years ahead—and the one of which our alumni should be most proud—will be of a hobbling Kyle Wolfe leaving the celebration with his teammates in the immediate aftermath of the match to jog across a court to hug Ashley and simply say “thank you.” The sincerity with which this was done was inspiring, and underscores the high-quality people we have at our institution. We are fortunate to have an incredible group of men and women in all of our programs at Bowdoin, and I hope these reflections through the lens of our men’s and women’s tennis programs will reassure you again that our current students excel in the classroom, in competition, and as people of high character.

Comments

  1. David Treadwell says:

    I am proud to say that I was the guy who urged Pete Seaver ’64 (a classmate, close friend, and fellow fraternity member) to attend the event. He couldn’t see the finals, as he was on his way to Rome the next day. He did call me from the airport and I gave him the great news. Well done, Bears!
    David Treadwell ’64

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