The Bowdoin Men’s Tennis Team capped off a record-breaking season with a resounding 5-0 victory over Middlebury in the NCAA Division III Championship. Wednesday's win at Kalamazoo College is the first national championship for the program, and the first title for a Bowdoin men’s team. The team took a 3-0 lead coming out of the doubles round and got a win from Co-Captain Luke Trinka ’16 before Middlebury player Hamid Derbani was unable to return the serve of Gil Roddy ’18, giving the Polar Bears the victory.

“It’s surreal. It’s not going to hit me and I don’t think it’s going to hit any of the guys for a while. It was just such an amazing moment, and for us, thinking nine months back in September when we made our goals, we knew we could be a good team, but no one on our team thought that a National Title was a certainty or anything like that,” said Co-Captain Chase Savage ’16. “We knew there was a lot of hard work ahead, but to be holding that trophy on Wednesday and to be surrounded by friends and family and to get all the support we got, it’s surreal.”

The win is especially cherished as Middlebury had defeated the Polar Bears twice before in this season, one of those times in the NESCAC final.

“For us to beat Middlebury in the national championship after they beat us twice this year, to be able to do it on the national stage is so special,” said Savage “They’re an unbelievable program, so for us to beat a team like that is just a little cherry on top of that ice cream sundae.”

Head Coach Conor Smith echoed Savage’s sentiments.

“It’s phenomenal. It makes things that much sweeter. It’s awesome to have won the national championship, and to have done it against Middlebury makes it just that much more epic,” he said. “They’re a team that has had our number for sure, not even just this year but the preceding years, last year they ended our year, so to be able to do it this year on this stage against them makes it that much better.”

Though no team expects to win a championship—doing so can all but guarantee a letdown—Bowdoin has had faith in their abilities the entire season. 

“You really trust the process and everything that has taken us here,” said Smith. “We weren’t really on anybody’s radar screens, which is fine, but the nine guys on the team, myself included, the ten of us, have known what we are capable of for a long time. It’s not a ridiculous shot to us.”

The team ended the year with a school record 20 wins and three losses. Smith attributes much of their success to the influence of the captains Savage and Trinka.

“Chase and Luke have been absolutely phenomenal leaders in so many ways, both on and off the court, doing a lot of the things that are not easy to do as leaders. You have to be so consistent every single day, showing up to practice and being that example, being that guy that everyone is kind of holding up on a pedestal,” he said. “[There are] things that are not always pleasant, not always fun, not easy, but if you want to be elite you have to do them. It’s one thing to have these things done and said by me and it’s a whole other to have their peers see [Savage and Trinka]. When the younger guys see that these guys are not just talking the talk but walking the walk, it goes way further than anything I could say or do.”

The respect and admiration flows both ways between the coach and players. Savage spoke highly of Smith, who was awarded the Wilson/ITA Division III Coach of the Year.

“He’s changed this program so much,” said Savage. “He’s recruited the right kids, and he’s recruited kids who love this program more than anything because he loves this program more than anything. He’s a special person, he’s one of the most influential people in my life and I know that all the other guys on the team would say the same thing, just in terms of how he conducts himself on and off the court, the type of role model he is. He’s a one of a kind person. I couldn’t imagine playing for another coach.”

Outside of the coach of the year award for Coach Smith, several other players received individual recognition. Savage was named the Northeast Region recipient of the ITA/Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award, Trinka received the ITA Division III Most Improved Player and Luke Tercek ’18 was named the ITA Division Division III Player to Watch.

Both Savage and Smith played down the importance of their awards.

“The team stuff is so much more important to me quite honestly,” he said. “If the guys don’t do their job then none of that stuff comes. It’s way more about the guys and the team than any personal accolades, that doesn’t mean that much to me. It’s about the guys and their growth not only just as tennis players but as people, as men, that’s what I’m all about,” said Smith.

“It’s humbling. I think it’s more of a reflection of our team than on me. This is a really easy team to have been a co-captain on and we’ve had so many other contributors that have played an integral role,” said Savage. “I look at [the award] as further validation of the type of character that all nine guys on the team have.”