April 3, 2007

Team of Raff, Brunner Make Potent Tandem

Print More

The men’s tennis No. 40 doubles pair of senior co-captains Nick Brunner and Josh Raff go together like peanut butter and jelly, pizza and beer, or whatever other superb combination of opposites you might imagine.
Brunner is a right-hander, while Raff is a lefty. Raff, a Haverford, Pa. native, has Philly roots that give him a cool, confident edge on the court. Brunner, on the other hand, plays with a mellow intensity straight out of Sacramento.
[img_assist|nid=22479|title=Buddy-buddy|desc=Senior co-captains Nick Brunner (right) and Josh Raff take on Army on Feb. 24.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=82]
“Our styles really complement each other,” Brunner said. “Josh’s game is extremely creative and exciting, mixing spin and finesse to make the most insanely ridiculous angles and volleys that make people gasp for air. Although I can’t produce such amazing shots, I pride myself on power and consistency, especially from the baseline to help set up Raff for put-away volleys at the net.”
According to Raff, the pair’s friendship adds to its success on the court.
“During the season we get a lot closer, but we’re very good friends off the court,” Raff said. “Nick has come to my house for Thanksgiving, since he lives in California.”
Raff and Brunner’s history of playing doubles together goes back almost as far as the beginning of their freshman year.
“As freshmen, Josh and I believed we could potentially make a good doubles tandem, especially for me because southpaws are kind of hard to come by,” Brunner said. “We had practiced as a team a few times in the fall of ’03, but with rather pathetic results. [Head coach Barry] Schoonmaker decided to pair us up with seniors at the time, which I wasn’t completely thrilled about.”
“People had to die, practically, for us to get to play together,” Raff said. “Well, it’s not that extreme, but someone got hurt the first day of a tournament when there were three other injuries. It wasn’t what [Schoonmaker] wanted — we were both two young freshmen.”
But according to Brunner, Schoonmaker soon realized that his hesitancy was unfounded: the doubles pair worked.
“We ended up having great chemistry on the court,” Brunner said. “Both of us have powerful and effective serves and good instincts and hands up at the net. We won the Cornell Invitational that year and the following Yale invite, and I think then [Schoonmaker] realized that he produced a strong doubles team by accident. Raff and I continued to play the No. 1 doubles position for all of our freshman year, and since then it has been our spot.”
Brunner and Raff have had a long, successful career at the top of the Red doubles lineup thus far. Last year, the duo had one of the top doubles seasons in Cornell history, finishing the year with a 23-5 record and a No. 53 ITA collegiate tennis ranking. They went 6-1 in Ivy play, losing only to Harvard’s Ashwin Kumar and Sasha Ermakov by a score of 8-6. Brunner and Raff won the 2005 Farnsworth/Princeton Invitation early last season, and went on to earn the second All-Ivy first team honors of their careers.
This fall, the pair was selected to compete in the Polo Ralph Lauren All-American Tennis Championships in Tulsa, Okla., where they earned one of the biggest wins of their doubles career as they defeated Wake Forest’s No. 7 pair of Andrew Hamar and Todd Paul, 8-5. Brunner and Raff had match points against UVA’s No. 24 Somdev Varman and Treat Huey, but ultimately fell 9-7.
“That UVA squad now boasts the No. 2 ranking in the nation,” Brunner said. “Though a tough loss, it gave us enormous confidence going into our final season as a doubles team.”
Brunner cites the pair’s 6-1 Ivy record and its win over the No. 7 Wake Forest team at the ITA All-American tournament as his most memorable moments as a doubles team, but for Raff, last year’s dual match against Princeton stands out most clearly.
“That match was voted [Ivy] doubles match of the year,” Raff said. “We played against one of my lifelong tennis friends, who was playing out of his mind. We got down big, but came back since we knew our Ivy season was on the line.”
Brunner and Raff are 10-1 (1-0 Ivy) so far this spring, losing only to the No. 23 team of Michael James and Adam Slagter of Penn State, 8-6, and they expect to do great things in their final months playing for the Red. The pair hopes to go undefeated in doubles and to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“We know we’re as good as any team that exists,” Raff said. “One goal is to make NCAAs, and another is to do well out there.”
Brunner also hopes that the men’s team, which he calls “the strongest team mentally and physically I have seen in my career at Cornell,” will contend for the Ivy League title.
“The past four years of being on this tennis team have been unforgettable,” Brunner said. “Being on a team is special, and other student athletes will agree that the four years spent representing your university through sports makes the college experience that much more satisfying.”