The last time Landon School senior No. 3 singles player Raman Ananthanpillai was serving for the match against Interstate Athletic Conference foe and St. Albans’ Thomas Boley, he allowed himself to look ahead. The Bears had already clinched the dual match with four wins and the University of Chicago recruit said he was so eager to celebrate with his teammates, he lost sight of the task at hand.
“I was up 6-4, 5-4 and I lost,” Ananthanpillai said. “It was a huge win for the team but a tough moment for me.”
The final match on court again in Friday’s IAC tournament final — which Landon had already clinched with five wins — against the Bulldogs in Bethesda, Ananthanpillai made no mistake in serving out a 6-4, 6-1 win, allowing his teammates anxiously waiting by the gate to storm the court in celebration.
With Friday’s 6-1 win, Landon, which shared the regular-season banner with St. Alban’s — both finished 4-1 after Landon’s loss to crosstown rival Georgetown Prep last month — clinched sole possession of the IAC championship for the first time in more than a decade. The Bears’ 47 IAC titles are the most of any other Landon team.
“When I saw third doubles come off, I was pretty sure we had won and then when [No. 4 singles] Nicky Talwar finished [next to me] I knew we had clinched it, but the last time I led by a set and I blew it so I didn’t want that to happen,” Ananthanpillai said. “Having everyone out here reminded me what was on the line and I wanted to finish on a win. If I’d lost it would’ve been 5-2 and it wouldn’t have hurt the team but it would’ve lessened the victory.”
This year’s title has been four years in the making since the current senior class, led by Southern Methodist University recruit and third-year No. 1 singles player Alex Reinke, arrived. In 2012 Landon was named an IAC co-champion and it was the first time the Bears had even a share of the title since winning three straight championships from 2001-04.
The Bears’ dominant win Friday was symptomatic of superior depth, Ananthanpillai and longtime Landon coach Adam Atwell agreed. Landon’s lineup is also quite versatile; the Bears’ top players are all-court players.
“I think we have guys playing doubles who normally could be singles players,” Atwell said. “We have juniors who haven’t played singles [yet] because of the depth of the team.”
That bodes well for the Bears’ future, though, as several top players will graduate this spring, Atwell added.
Friday’s win was made even sweeter given Landon’s first loss to rival Prep midway through the season — the Bears lost by one single third-set tiebreak. It took a bit for the team to recover emotionally, Ananthanpillai and Atwell said, and seemed to serve as motivation in the title match.
Reinke, No. 2 singles Gabriel Goldberg and No. 4 singles Nicky Talwar all won in straight sets as did the Bears’ Nos. 2 and 3 doubles teams of Sam Boley and Deacon Brew and Josh Granader and Culver VanVleck. The latter lost just one game en route to their victory.
A win in No. 1 doubles by Alex Soltany and Blake Bath prevented Landon’s sweep.
“These guys played their best tennis in the tournament,” Atwell said. “I said to our seniors ... that this would be the last time they’d be playing on these courts and I think it hit them a little bit. I’ve never seen them start so fast. ... It’s not easy to win an IAC title, this conference is so competitive. Coming into the season I knew we had a good team and felt like we had a shot but there’s never any guarantee. These guys were down after the Prep match but credit to them for not getting pouty, instead they came back to win [the whole thing].”