July 3, 2019

Capping Superb Debut for Wesleyan Men’s Tennis, PHS Grad Lilienthal Takes 2nd in NCAA D-III Doubles

DOUBLE TAKE: Noah Lilienthal shows his form this spring during his freshman season for the Wesleyan University men’s tennis team. Former Princeton High standout Lilienthal helped Wesleyan go 16-5 as it advanced to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals. Lilienthal went on to compete in the NCAA D-III Doubles Championship where he and teammate Adrian Roji placed second, becoming the first Wesleyan duo to achieve that feat. Lilienthal was named both the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) and ITA Division III Rookie of the Year and earned All-American honors in doubles along with Roji. (Photo provided courtesy of Wesleyan University Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Noah Lilienthal didn’t get off to a great start when he hit the court last fall for the Wesleyan University men’s tennis team in his freshman season.

“One of the biggest challenges is that you want to impress your teammates and show them you have a really high level but at the same time also be there for them,” said Lilienthal, a former Princeton High star who won a first singles title at the Mercer County Tournament for the Tigers.

“It was in the back of my head, I need to get good results so that everyone on my team respects me and all of that stuff. I lost a couple of matches I felt I could have won. I think it was because I was putting way too much pressure on myself.”

By the time the spring season rolled around, Lilienthal had reached a comfort level and was primed to step up for the Cardinals.

“The team had a really, really good offseason; in D-III you have a really long time period where there is no coaching allowed,” said Lilienthal.

“It was really a time where the team can build their own culture when the coach isn’t there. We really clicked with each other. I was at a point where I couldn’t wait to just be part of a team dual match and see what it was like. I really loved the energy of playing with the team. Instead of just winning for myself, it is for everyone.”

Lilienthal ended up helping Wesleyan win a lot of matches as it went 16-5 and advanced to the NCAA D-III team quarterfinals. Lilienthal enjoyed a great finish to his debut campaign, going on to compete in the NCAA D-III Doubles Championship where he and sophomore teammate Adrian Roji placed second, becoming the first Wesleyan duo to achieve that feat.

“I felt like I had no choice but to bring out my best game because I was always eager to get a point out for the team,” said Lilienthal.

“Every day, I had chances to win. I thought that was a positive thing for me starting at No 4 singles.”

The fifth-ranked Cardinals were focused as they headed into the D-III team competition.

“It was pretty thrilling, I remember one night our coaches got us together and we went to dinner and they took our phones away,” said Lilienthal.

“It was tough but we came up with a lot of good energy because none of us were stuck to our phones and the media stuff and the twitter stuff. We were just focusing on each other and I think that is when we are the best.”

In the NCAAs, Wesleyan defeated John Carroll 5-0 and topped No. 11 Kenyon 5-2 to advance to the quarterfinals where they fell to 5-2 to sixth-ranked Middlebury.

Bouncing back from the setback, Lilienthal and Roji turned their attention to the D-III doubles tourney.

“There were some nerves and some doubt because we had never been in that situation, but we both thought just to go for it, this is our last hurrah of the season,” said Lilienthal.

“Our teammates were there and that had stayed after our team tournament and I fed off the energy that was coming from Wesleyan. Also, the women’s team had just won the national championship so there was a lot of energy coming  into the tournament.”

In addition to that energy, the duo of Lilienthal and Roji drew on the chemistry they had developed before they even came to Wesleyan.

“I think he has best hands in all of D-III and D-I tennis as far as I know,” asserted Lilienthal, noting he and New Hope, Pa. native Roji had been playing together since childhood in the junior circuit.

“My serve is good enough to always get into those volleys that way. We complement each other with tennis and the fact that we have know each other for so long, we know what to say to each other when we are in tough situations and then make each other relax.”

After topping tandems from Johns Hopkins in the first round, Skidmore in the quarters, and WashU in the semis, Lilienthal and Roji lost a tight three-setter in the final to Bowdoin’s Grant Urken and Jerry Jiang, who prevailed 7-5, 1-6, 6-4.

“I didn’t realize how big the stage was going to be, seeing the stands and the chair umpires; it was very official,” said Lilienthal.

“The third set was tough. Grant has a ginormous serve so we had to take our chances on our returns. At the end of the day, it was just two or three points here or there. We could have executed a bit better.”

At the end of the season, Lilienthal garnered a slew of honors, getting named as both the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) and ITA Division III Rookie of the Year and earning All-American honors in doubles along with Roji.

“It is definitely reassuring, I am happy I won those awards,” said Lilienthal, who had a 17-3 record in doubles and went 14-3 overall in singles, playing at No. 4 and No. 3.

“I also think that there are a lot of guys on our team and around the nation that were just as deserving of the awards. I was just really happy to be in these high pressure situations and execute at a pretty high level. At the end of the day, those awards are just icing on the cake. It was nice that I was recognized for the level I was playing at.”

Over the summer, Lilienthal will be entering local tournaments to keep his game sharp.

“I will play some tough competition and develop some more resilience when I am playing against a tough opponent,” said Lilienthal, who will be doing research for a law firm and spending time practicing on the saxophone, as he is also an award-winning jazz soloist. “Training for tennis will be a large component of my summer.”

Looking ahead to his sophomore season, Lilienthal is hoping that increased resilience will help him to be more assertive for the Cardinals.

“My freshman year, I was along for the ride,” said Lilienthal. “I played well and I attribute that a lot to my team. This year, we have a lot of guys going abroad in the fall. It is going to be tough for the team, but I hope it gives me an opportunity to  develop a leadership role in the team and not just sit back but make a mark.”