Sunday, August 01, 2021

Sports

Westbrook Nets 21-1 Record After Losing to Granby in State Final

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Senior captain Jesse McGannon and the Westbrook boys’ tennis team posted a final overall record of 21-1 after making it all the way to the Class S State Tournament final where they lost to Granby 4-3 on June 3. McGannon was a stellar leader at the No. 1 singles position for the Knights. File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News

Senior captain Jesse McGannon and the Westbrook boys’ tennis team posted a final overall record of 21-1 after making it all the way to the Class S State Tournament final where they lost to Granby 4-3 on June 3. McGannon was a stellar leader at the No. 1 singles position for the Knights. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News)

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Junior Jonah Freund had a great postseason as a member of the Knights’ No. 2 doubles team. On June 2, Fruend helped Westbrook claim a 5-2 victory over a familiar foe in Valley Regional in the Class S State Tournament semifinal.

File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News

Junior Jonah Freund had a great postseason as a member of the Knights’ No. 2 doubles team. On June 2, Fruend helped Westbrook claim a 5-2 victory over a familiar foe in Valley Regional in the Class S State Tournament semifinal. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News)

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Sophomore Ryan Engels was an integral part of Westbrook’s 5-2 win against Shepaug Valley on June 1 as a member of the No. 2 doubles tandem. File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News

Sophomore Ryan Engels was an integral part of Westbrook’s 5-2 win against Shepaug Valley on June 1 as a member of the No. 2 doubles tandem. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News)

The Westbrook boys’ tennis team had one of the best seasons in program history. The Knights turned in an undefeated regular season to earn the Shoreline Conference title. Last week, Westbrook also made a deep run in the Class S State Tournament bracket, but lost in the final round.

The Knights finished the year with an overall record of 21-1, with that only loss coming in the state final.

On June 3, No. 1 seed Westbrook faced off with No. 7 seed Granby in the Class S final at the Magic Lincer Tennis Club in Manchester. The Knights took a 4-3 loss in the contest to be runners-up for the Class S championship.

Even though the season ended in a loss, Head Coach Dan Shapiro and his squad have a lot to be proud of this season, especially given the size of their school.

“We are the single-smallest public high school in Connecticut right now, so to be the second best high school tennis team in Class S is certainly an accomplishment,” Shapiro said. “Our players were a team in the truest sense of the word. I think all you need to know about them is that they wanted to practice today after the season was over.”

The format for states was different than how the Knights had played throughout the season. In every regular season contest, the singles lineup would go five players deep, and there would be two doubles tandems competing for a match. In states, singles were reduced to four players, and the doubles pairings were increased to three.

Against Granby, senior captain Jesse McGannon took a 7-5, 6-2 loss at the No. 1 spot. Junior Joey Caslin earned a 7-5, 7-6 win at the No. 2 position, while senior Cooper Whitehouse earned the 6-2, 6-3 win at No. 3. Freshman Elliot Koplas claimed a 6-2, 6-2 victory in the No. 4 position. As for doubles, the No. 1 duo of junior Mason Malchiodi and senior Gareth Whitehouse lost 6-2, 6-4, and the No. 2 pairing of junior Jonah Freund and sophomore Ryan Engles took a 6-3, 6-0 defeat. The No. 3 tandem of senior Daniel Ruppenicker and sophomore Erik DeSousa took a 6-3, 6-3 loss.

Coach Shapiro knew that Granby would be a formidable opponent. He thought the Knights did an admirable job, but just couldn’t get that last win necessary to claim the match victory.

“We have a lot of respect for Granby and a nice rivalry in years past. We knew that we would struggle at No. 3 doubles because they have an established No. 3 doubles team. Our third doubles team was a player that wasn’t playing most of the year and a singles player. Their second doubles team is also very strong,” said Shapiro. “Our guys were gracious with the other team, and I respect that a lot. They realized that on that day Granby played better. The effort was extraordinary. We came up one match short. Knowing that we lost to a very good team and that we gave our best effort does matter.”

The Knights’ tourney journey began with a first round contest against No. 17 seed Northwestern Regional at the Old Saybrook Racquet Club on May 29. The Knights earned a 6-1 win against Northwestern. Westbrook swept the singles matches with wins McGannon (6-0, 6-2), Caslin (6-0, 6-1), Cooper Whitehouse (6-1, 6-1), and Koplas (6-0, 6-0). On the doubles court, the Knights got wins from Freund and Engels (6-4, 6-0) and Ruppenicker and DeSousa (6-4, 6-3). Malchiodi and Gareth Whitehouse took the Knights’ lone loss by 6-4, 7-6.

Coach Shapiro thought that his squad was excited to see a team that wasn’t part of the Shoreline Conference. Shapiro thought that one of the best moments of the match came when DeSousa and Ruppenicker claimed their win at No. 3 doubles.

“I think that the kids played hard that match. They were excited to play a team from another conference. The No. 1 doubles on Northwestern’s team is really strong, and they barely beat our No. 1,” said Shapiro. “What I think was nice was Erik DeSousa getting a win. He’s a player that hadn’t seen any time playing during the regular season, and he won a state tournament match, which is a huge deal. Our singles players also played very strong that day.”

On June 1, Westbrook hosted No. 8 seed Shepaug Valley and claimed a 5-2 victory in the match. The Knights were bolstered by wins from Caslin (6-2, 6-3), Cooper Whitehouse (6-3, 6-1), and Koplas (6-2, 6-0) on the singles courts. As for doubles, Malchiodi and Gareth Whitehouse claimed a 6-1, 6-4 win, and Freund and Engels grabbed a 7-5, 6-4 victory.

Coach Shapiro thought Westbrook saw some quality competition against Shepaug, and his players rose to the occasion.

“I think both teams played very well. Shepaug has a good tennis team. Even the matches where the scores weren’t that close were competitive. Their No. 1 was very strong and edged out our No. 1,” Shapiro said. “They had good doubles teams, too. Our players were very consistent and focused as a team. That got us to 20 wins as a group, so that was exciting too. Our two losses came losses No. 1 singles, and third doubles lost a very close match.”

On June 2, the Knights went up against a very familiar foe in the semifinal in No. 5 seed Valley Regional. Westbrook hosted the match and claimed a 5-2 victory over the Warriors. Westbrook’s singles wins came from Caslin (6-2, 6-4) and Koplas (6-2, 6-1). As for doubles, Westbrook swept the lineup with victories from Malchiodi and Gareth Whitehouse (6-4, 4-6, 7-6), Freund and Engels (6-0, 6-1), and Ruppenicker and DeSousa (6-0, 6-3).

Coach Shapiro was glad to see his team come away with the victory in some close matches with Shoreline Conference rivals.

“That’s a big rivalry for us. Their singles players are strong, and their No. 1 doubles team is very strong, as well. In particular, Valley’s No. 3, Hayden Lombardi, played an incredible match. He beat Cooper, who hadn’t lost all year. They matched up in the Shoreline tournament that Cooper won, and Cooper had beaten him a few times this year. He’s a strong player, and their No. 1 singles also very strong,” said Shapiro. “I think it was great to see a player who hadn’t lost lose and see other players really step up to pick up the slack.”

Coach Shapiro will remember this group of players for a very long time. There was something special about this Westbrook squad starting from the top with their senior captain all the way down the ladder.

“What separates this team is their love for each other, their commitment to improving, and their desire to be successful as a team. We had meals together, practiced hard together, and truly supported each other. We were a family,” Shapiro said. “Jesse McGannon quietly led by example. Playing No. 1 singles is not easy, and Jesse faced that challenge head on. There was not a single practice where someone worked harder than him. The new players like Daniel Ruppenicker, Ryan Engels, and Erik DeSousa fit right into that culture. Virtually every player on this team started their high school tennis career as a beginner. That is rare. To get to 21-1 just a few years later, including a missed year due to COVID, is incredible.”



Chris Negrini is the Assistant Sports Editor for Zip06. Email Chris at c.negrini@shorepublishing.com.

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