Before the pandemic hit there would be a pretty good chance that the Goucher College men's tennis team would have been playing at the Evelyn Van Dyke '62 Tennis Center searching for its fifth-straight Landmark Conference title on Saturday, May 2 while Monday, May 4 marks the one-year anniversary of the team winning its fourth-consecutive title.
In some ways you can say that the whole world is standing still waiting for COVID-19 to go away, but for seniors Slade Dumas, Michael Herman and Frankie Mullinix the chance to be the second Goucher class to leave with four championship rings has passed them by. We could dwell on what could have been or praise the culture, community and friendships the three of them helped create for the college and the men's tennis program over the last four years.
The trio was an important part of three of the four championships and the Gophers would not have had this run without them. Tennis is a "womb to tomb" sport and while each of them came from different backgrounds how each were introduced to the sport is very similar.
Dumas, who grew up in Northern Virginia, started playing tennis with his dad and competitively at the age of 13. Herman, who is a native of the Czech Republic, started participating in tennis at the age of six while Mullinix began being engaged in the sport at the age of eight, who also said that the game came naturally to him. Mullinix, who was born in Lexington, Kentucky has had several stops in his life including Washington, D.C and currently calls North Sutton, New Hampshire, home.
The love of the game came to this trio at a very young age and continues to this day!
"I love the sport because I've grown addicted to the thrill of winning close matches especially when there is a lot on the line, such as championships or NCAAs," said Dumas.
"I enjoy that it brings out the most competitive version of yourself and that it provides valuable lessons that can then be applied to your life off the court such as having to problem solve quickly, being resilient, and not giving up," said Herman. "I also enjoy how hard it is to master. It is one of the most physically and technically challenging sports."
"Over the years I've had moments where my love for the sport fluctuates, but something I've always loved about tennis is the friendships that have come with it and the places it's taken me," said Mullinix.
The three ended up joining Goucher because then head coach Brendan Kincaid sold each of them that Goucher College was an up and coming program.
"I chose Goucher because it is a very solid academic institution with awesome study abroad opportunities," Herman. "A big part of my decision was also the head coach at the time, Brendan Kincaid who was very persuasive and had set high goals and hopes for the tennis program going forward."
"The guys on the team at that point spoke very highly of him (Kincaid), and I was convinced that he was the right coach to take my game to the next level," said Mullinix. "I was also impressed by the team's high status in the Landmark Conference and the prospect of joining a championship team was an attractive one."
When they arrived on campus in the fall of 2016, the Gophers had just won their first conference title in the spring. They didn't imagine the kind of success they produce in the next four years, but the expectations were starting to rise .
"To be honest, I was not even thinking that far ahead," said Herman. "I just wanted to be a strong asset to our team. Based on what my teammates were saying and what the goals were, we definitely expected it from ourselves to win the conference. Also, with the way the program was improving every year and how hard we worked all the time, we knew we would have a great chance to win it every year."
In the 2017 Landmark Conference Men's Tennis Championships, the Gophers were the No. 3 seed so would have to win two matches on the road to claim the crown. Herman helped the team to a 5-2 win against second seed Scranton including the clincher at No. 2 singles, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. Mullinix won his doubles and singles matches and Herman won in singles in a 5-1 win against top-seed Juniata to claim their first title.
"I was really happy to be able to win my match against a Juniata guy I had lost to like a week before to put us ahead and then Frankie won his match to put us one point away," said Herman. "We were playing away and indoors and the best part of the championship was seeing Jack (Hodges) win that five point and seeing all of the guys running down the stairs sprinting to his court."
"The first Landmark title was the most satisfying because we were the underdog," said Mullinix. "We had lost to Juniata and Scranton during the regular season and earned a No. 3 seed heading into the playoffs. My favorite moment was when Jack hit a let-court winner off of a return to win his match and clinch the title for us. The rest of us were standing upstairs watching his match. We all went absolutely nuts as we ran downstairs and onto his court to celebrate."
"We did not care who won as long as we did as a team, but to see Jack clinching felt right because he was one of our main leaders that year," said Herman. "Then we started the celebration and it was pretty emotional. Just so much happiness. I was so proud of our efforts that year because it was not easy and the conference was very competitive. I think four teams could have won it that year, but were able to play our best when it counted the most."
After defeating Juniata to win the title, Goucher did not have to go far for the NCAA Division III Men's Tennis Championships after being sent down the road to Johns Hopkins. The team lost to John Carroll 5-1 at the national stage, who was ranked No. 17 in the Central Region.
"I learned that Top-10 teams in Division III are easily as good as high level Division I players so I was taught that the D3 national chip was an incredibly high bar to reach," said Dumas.
"The NCAA certainly humbles you and makes you see that the goals of a season are not just to win the conference, but also to get used to competing against regionally and nationally ranked teams," said Herman. "We were lucky enough to have plenty of those matches on the schedule."
In the trio's sophomore year, the team went into the conference tournament as the top seed and defeated No. 4 seed Susquehanna 5-0. Mullinix won two matches including the clincher at No. 4 singles, 6-1, 6-0. The Gophers defeated No. 2 Scranton in the title bout, 5-2.
"During my sophomore year, we went undefeated in the conference during the regular season and earned the top seed going into the playoffs," said Mullinix. "The championship match vs. Scranton was probably the most fun atmosphere I got to play in during my career. A lot of people came out to support us and it helped us keep our energy levels high."
"Everyone was wearing blue and to see how much involvement there was from them made it very special," said Herman. "We always wanted to play for something bigger than just ourselves. Of course, seeing Elliot (Diehl) clinching was awesome. Nobody worked harder than him on our team and so it was well deserved and a great college moment for him."
"I remember sitting on my bench two courts away watching Elliot play his match point," said Mullinix. "I sprinted over to his court with the rest of my teammates after he had won and we proceeded to celebrate just as we had done the year before. I was really happy for him to get to have that moment, he definitely deserved it. Seeing him have that moment was the best moment for me from the second championship."
"My favorite memory from the second championship was setting off fireworks outside the Athenaeum at like 2 a.m.," said Dumas.
While the team was able to stay close to campus for its first trip to the NCAA Championships after being on the road for the conference title, the team was shipped up to Williamstown, Massachusetts for the national tournament in 2018. The trio enjoyed its first NCAA Tournament win and second in program history with a 5-0 win against Messiah in the first round. Herman earned his second win on the national stage while Herman, Dumas and Diehl each earned a doubles win against the Falcons. Goucher then lost to Williams in the second round. Despite the loss, the team posted a program-record 24-5 record.
"The NCAA tournaments were always enjoyable trips with my teammates," said Mullinix. "We knew we were a good team, but in reality, there was only so far we could go. This was the hard lesson that I learned from NCAAs."
Everything was status quo for the title run in their junior year with the exception of new head coach Eric Spangler at the helm, who was hired in January 2019. Once the conference season started the team rolled through league play with its second-straight undefeated season to be the top seed in the tournament.
The Gophers played No. 4 Susquehanna in the opening round again and won 5-0 to advance to the title match against No. 2 Scranton. A threat of rain moved the championship match up to 10 a.m., but that did not stop Goucher. Dumas and Herman both won their doubles matches and Dumas won at No. 5 singles 6-0, 6-2 while Mullinix on Court 3 won at No. 3 singles 6-4, 6-2 to clinch the match and complete their third-straight title.
"The first two championships it was 50/50 whether or not we'd pull it out," said Dumas, who is proud that he was named the Most Valuable Player of that championship. "We had solid competition in the conference. The third I knew for fact we'd win."
"I played some of my best tennis in a Goucher shirt during that match and ended up clinching the conference title with my win," said Mullinix. "I dropped my racquet and threw my hands up in the air as my teammates ran to my court to celebrate. This was a big moment for me and became my favorite memory from the third championship."
"I was the closest one to Frankie's court so I was the first to get to him after he clinched the win," said Herman. "In a way it felt similar to winning the first one because it is all about who is part of the team when you do win."
Goucher was sent back up to New England again, this time to Middlebury, Vermont. The trio were each apart of a doubles win and Dumas put the team on the brink of victory with 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 4 singles for the team's fourth win in a 5-0 win against Baruch. The team then lost to sixth-ranked Middlebury in the second round.
Little did we know that conference championship would be the last time Dumas, Herman and Mullinix would play a match at Goucher College or the match against Middlebury would be their last shot at the national stage.
Most athletes would be satisfied with one championship, but these three student-athletes won three and learned a lot in the process.
"I learned how important relationships are with your professors, classmates, teammates and coaches," said Herman. "I think I was able to get along very well with the faculty and we always had great team chemistry as well. Without these relationships, accomplishments in life do not have the same meaning and so the lesson is share the moments that mean a lot to you with your best friends and family. Also the experience of having to balance academics and athletics at a D3 college like Goucher brought out the best in me and helped me develop into a better version of myself."
"I learned that while winning is very satisfying, the most valuable experiences were the relationships with my teammates and coaches that I crafted over my four years," said Mullinix.
"Nothing in life is more important than the relationships you build with people," said Dumas.
They were the backbone of three of the four championships the team has won and will leave a lasting legacy and each one of them will be remembered for their contributions to the title run.
"Throughout my years opponents considered me a "brick wall" because I'm a very consistent player so people would hate when they got matched up against me," said Dumas, who finished four singles wins from the program's career record with 59 singles victories.
"I want to be remembered as the guy who brought everyone on the team together," said Mullinix, who finished fourth in program history with 52 career doubles wins and ninth with 42 singles wins. "I want my teammates to remember me as the guy who brought them joy and laughter on and off the court."
"I would like to be remembered as someone who always gave his maximum effort and tried to be a good teammate and leader on and off the court," said Herman, who finished seventh with 44 career doubles wins and just outside the Top-10 in 11th place with 41 career singles victories.
There could be a watermark on their career. It could be tears of sadness because they didn't have a chance to finish the their fourth title run and the team's fifth. However, those tears could be happy tears for each of their academic and athletic achievements during their four years as a Gopher.
They came in with a promise of joining an up and coming team. They achieved it and took the team to new heights. It won't be the same without them, but Goucher could not do it without them and we are better for their contributions to the men's tennis program.