Friday, June 5, 2009

Remember That Feat: Men's Tennis

The spring of 2009 marked 45 years since a highly noteworthy achievement in Princeton men’s tennis history, yet there’s no mention of it in the program’s online record book.

Miami’s men’s tennis media guide devotes a whole page to it – page 30 of the 2009 publication, to be precise – but the historical note came to TigerBlog’s attention only after an alumnus mentioned it to head coach Glenn Michibata during reunions weekend.

The lack of info from Princeton’s side wasn’t out of negligence, however, and the alum who reported the achievement explains why.

Alexander Wellford Jr. ’64, now an attorney in Tennessee, e-mailed Michibata to say that Princeton had played Miami in a 1964 match that didn’t count toward Princeton’s record, per Ivy League rules.

(As an aside, the Ivy League has different rules than the rest of Division I in many sports regarding the number of contests teams can play and how early the season can start. In soccer, for example, most other Division I teams can play 20 and start in late August. Princeton can only play 17.)

Since it wasn’t an official match for Princeton, it’s not in the official Princeton record book. But it sure counts for Miami.

The 5-4 win (the three doubles matches used to count individually and now collectively count as one point) ended a string of 137 wins for Miami since 1957. It’s a record that still stands today and is unlikely to be broken since, as the Miami write-up reports, teams now play dual matches in the NCAA tournament. That format has been in place since 1977, and Miami reports that only three teams have gone undefeated since.

Impressive streaks have gone on in other sports, such as the Indiana men's swimming streak of 140 dual meet victories from 1966-1979, as noted by fellow men's tennis alum Herb Fitz Gibbon '64. You can be sure whatever team that eventually broke Indiana's streak was pretty excited about it too.

(As another aside, the Princeton women’s tennis team was part of another long winning streak when it traveled to Stanford this past March, though no such streak-snapping win occurred. The Cardinal have won 151 home matches in a row since 1999.)

The unofficial matches must have been something of a regular occurrence. By Princeton’s record, the Tigers have faced Miami only eight times, all between 1935 and 1998, with Miami leading 6-2. By Miami’s count, the teams have faced off 39 times, with Miami leading 33-5-1. That means Princeton trails only Clemson, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Rollins College, South Florida and Yale as more popular Miami opponents. Perhaps the Tigers and Bulldogs made cooperative ventures to the Sunshine State before spring arrived in the Northeast.

But enough about the ‘Canes. Princeton was more than an upstart in the 60s, as the win against Miami came during a winning streak that lasted 52 matches from 1960 to 1965. The Tigers won five straight EITA titles from 1961-65, and all those wins went on the record of John Conroy, who retired in 1971 as Princeton’s winningest coach.

Conroy had an outstanding career record of 259-37 and has been surpassed in wins only by David Benjamin, who coached Princeton from 1975-2000. Glenn Michibata, with 112 wins, is third on that list after taking over for Benjamin.

As long as Princeton sports have been around, which for some sports means since the 19th century, plenty of little-known nuggets of information like this have to exist. Sometimes, all it takes is 45 years and a tip to unearth them.

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