They may not be Catholic priests, but senior tri-captains Josh Raff and Nick Brunner of the men’s tennis team are looking to exorcise a pair of Demon Deacons as the Red’s top doubles team takes on Wake Forest today in the first round of the All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla.
The All-American Championships is the first of three elite national men’s tennis championships held each collegiate season. Hundreds of doubles pairs across America vie for the right to enter the tournament, but only 32 earn a spot in the draw.
[img_assist|nid=18795|title=Picture perfect|desc=Senior tri-captain Josh Raff of the men’s tennis team unleashes a serve during a doubles match last season. (Ariel Waitz / Sun Staff)|link=popup|align=right|width=100|height=82]
The ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in November and the college tennis equivalent of Wimbledon, the NCAA championships in May, complete the trifecta. Head coach Barry Schoonmaker has complete confidence in the dynamic duo of Brunner and Raff.
“This tournament is the best of the best, the cream of the crop,” Schoonmaker said. “The fact that Josh and Nick qualified is huge in itself. All the best teams are there — UCLA, Stanford, Duke, Wake Forest.”
Brunner and Raff, who are ranked No. 40 nationally among Division I doubles teams, qualified for the tournament by virtue of their No. 1 ranking in the Northeast region. The duo posted a solid 23-5 record and earned first team All-Ivy accolades last season, buying them two tickets to Tulsa.
Raff and Brunner will play the tournament’s No. 5 seed, Wake Forest seniors Andrew Hamar and Todd Paul. Coincidentally, Raff and Paul go way back.
“We used to play each other in juniors,” Raff said. “The fact that we’re playing [Todd Paul], I think gives us a mental edge.”
Schoonmaker is also quick to give the edge to his team.
“I really think Nick and Josh can beat them,” Schoonmaker said. “I feel like the pro-set will favor Nick and Josh, so they can just play well enough to get eight games. In our region, where they’re No. 1 they’re always the hunted. The other underdog teams can get hot, get that one break of serve, and it’s done. In this case, Nick and Josh can play with that abandon and take the match.”
Raff and Brunner were back in action as a doubles team last weekend at the ECAC championships in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., when Brunner made his first comeback after injury. They narrowly lost both of their matches, 9-8, in tiebreakers, but Schoonmaker and Raff see a bright side in the results.
“The bottom line is that they were playing together,” Schoonmaker said. “If a few key points went their way, they could’ve won. But they’re going to have to get those points this time.”
“Last weekend was the first time we played together in a while,” Raff said. “I was a little rusty, but Nick’s in top form.”
According to Schoonmaker, Brunner and Raff possess the perfect arsenal of shots for a killer doubles team.
“Nick has a ridiculous serve and a huge return, and Josh can rip balls and volleys as good as anybody,” Schoonmaker said. “If they do lose, even if they could win one match, they’d get points for their ranking and improve their chances of getting to the NCAA tournament. If they don’t win, hopefully it’ll make them hungry to do what they have to for the NCAAs.”
Senior tri-captain Dan Brous, with whom Raff paired to win the A flight doubles title at the Farnsworth/Princeton Invitational two weeks ago, also has confidence in his teammates.
“I think they have a fantastic shot,” Brous said. “I wish them the best of luck.”