Washington serves up first national title

May 30, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

CHESTERTOWN -- The basketball team was third in 1990. So was the tennis team. The lacrosse team was runner-up to Hobart six times.

But never had Washington College won a national championship in any sport until the men's tennis team stunned Claremont (Calif.) College in the tournament final to capture the NCAA Division III title on May 19.

Moments after, coach Tim Gray phoned athletic director Geoff Miller from Redlands, Calif., with the news, Miller then called college president Chuck Trout. Word spread, and the town hummed.

"Within 30 minutes everyone in Chestertown who cared about tennis knew," Miller would say a few nights later at a reception honoring the team. "Within an hour, even those who didn't care knew."

Gray's international connection had scored big.

Of his nine players, eight are foreigners, two each from Germany and Argentina and one each from New Zealand, Mexico, Slovakia and South Africa. The "token American," as Gray calls him, is Andrew King of South Carolina.

"My wife says I'm the only coach who sets the alarm at 3 a.m. to make recruiting calls to New Zealand," Gray said.

As a Division III school, Washington can't offer athletic scholarships, so Gray capitalizes on the college's desire for a 10 percent foreign flavor to the student body.

"Most American kids who fancy themselves as good tennis players think Division I, not so-called lowly Division III," Gray said. "I wrote letters to every sectionally ranked high school player in the country last year and got none.

"Foreigners are happy to be here. They have to be from affluent families and be good students. The kids on this team are both. Their grade-point average is over 3.0."

Gray captained and played No. 2 singles as a senior on the 1986 team that was Washington's first to qualify for the Division III tournament. The Shoremen have qualified every year since, except last season.

This spring, in Gray's third season as coach, Washington had 10 shutouts and a 16-2 record, losing only to Division I Penn State and Furman. One Division III opponent, Haverford, managed to score a point.

Seeded third in the 12-team national tournament, Washington beat Emory in the quarterfinals and upset No. 1 California-Santa Cruz, a finalist four straight years, in the semis.

In the final against Claremont, the score was 3-3 entering doubles. Claremont won the No. 2 doubles, but the Shoremen's Emilio Bogado (Argentina) and Stephan Berger (Germany) won the No. 3 to tie the match. Meanwhile, Washington's No. 1 pair, Robin Sander (Germany) and Damian Polla (Argentina), won a tiebreaker in the second set to force a third set.

Sander and Polla fell behind 2-0, then won five straight games. Claremont won the next two to make it 5-4, placing the burden on Sander to serve for the match. Sander delivered with a 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory for a 5-4 team win.

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