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05/24/2024 11:15 AM

Westbrook Boys’ Tennis Finishes Undefeated Regular Season with Shoreline Conference Title

Pictured is the Westbrook boys’ tennis team in (back) Head Coach Dan Shapiro and Dev Patel; (front) Carlos Solis, John Freund, Trevor Jones, Miles Hayden, Jack Ford, Elliot Koplas (captain), Evan Lessard, Chris Howe, Nick English, Karl Schilling, Yareth Antunez, and Aiden Otrin. Photo courtesy of Dan Shapiro

To go all season long without losing a match is an incredibly difficult feat for any tennis team. It takes a ton of precision and a variety of different people working in tandem to earn points. The Westbrook boys’ tennis team had a winning culture all season long, and it led to the squad hoisting a Shoreline Conference Championship trophy and leaving no blemishes on its record in the process.

At the Shoreline Conference Championship on May 20 and 21, the Knights battled to the top and earned a first place finish to top off the perfect campaign.

Head Coach Dan Shapiro, who has seen tremendous growth from his squad this spring, was thrilled to see his players come together to reach a common goal.

“The team was thrilled to be undefeated and win its third Shoreline championship in the last seven years,” said Shapiro. “The competition was particularly stiff this year with Old Lyme, Cromwell, Morgan, H-K, and Valley all having excellent teams. Being voted Coach of the Year by my peers was a big honor. It reflects well on my excellent assistant coach, Jeff Beeman, and the dedication of my players.”

Shapiro has focused this spring on the true essence of teamwork and forming a family-like bond. That mentality helped every member of the team to lift each other up and keep them motivated and locked in.

“The last few years, we have graduated so many good players, and at a small school it is hard to replace them,” said Shapiro. “We have six players who played on last year's team. Their improvement has been extraordinary. Notably, the team is very close. We spend lots of time together as a team, and each player supports the others. Our focus on mental toughness has served the team well.”

That mental toughness has been particularly shown by a squad steward in Elliot Koplas who has also racked up a variety of solo accolades on the court this campaign.

“Our captain and No. 1 singles player is Elliot Koplas. He is undefeated so far and definitely serves as a role model for the team in terms of his mental toughness and work ethic. He sets the tone for the team,” said Shapiro. “The players see how competitive he is, how hard he practices, and how much of a gentleman he is, and they model their behavior after his. With Elliot on the team over the past four seasons, our team's regular season record is 64-7. He is the only male player in school history to win two team Shoreline Championships, in 2021 and 2024.”

Koplas has experienced the ups and downs that come with a tennis season, and he is proud of the way his team persevered and never let anything slow them down.

“It feels great to be a part of another undefeated team and bring home another Shoreline championship,” said Koplas. “Being one of the smallest schools, if not the smallest school, in the state brings a lot of challenges such as getting people to play. It was a rough start to the season finding athletes, but once we found 14 guys who cared deeply about this team and doing what it takes to win, one game at a time, we found a way to win and we just kept winning. It was a very special season to me being our team’s No. 1 singles and solo captain, and I felt like I had a lot of responsibility and pressure to do well. It was important for me to play my best every game and get the job done, and I knew I had 13 guys alongside me fighting as hard as they could too, and I think this is why we truly exceeded was because we all cared about each other and about this team. Our coach is a big reason why we all perform well. He sets the bar high on us and helps us get better so we can achieve these goals such as Shoreline champions.”

Besides Koplas leading the charge, several other players have been key to Westbrook’s success this spring. They have all brought different aspects of their game to the table to excel on the court.

“Senior Trevor Jones played No. 2 doubles last year, and now he is a part of an undefeated No. 1 doubles team,” Shapiro said. “Sophomore Miles Hayden is playing really well at No. 2 singles, making a huge jump from No. 4 last year. Yareth Antunez has made enormous strides, and he made a massive jump from No. 3 doubles to No. 3 singles. We have also added senior Jack Ford, who has proven to be an excellent addition at No. 2 doubles with senior Dev Patel. Finally, the team of Aiden Otrin and Karl Schilling has emerged as an excellent third doubles team. Freshman Evan Lessard has stepped in at No. 4 singles and has already made a significant impact on the team with impressive wins against Montville and Ledyard.”

During the regular season slate, the Knights can point to several key matchups that helped to keep them focused down the stretch and gave them the confidence to be able to stay on top.

On May 8, the Knights faced Grasso Tech and won 7-0. For singles, Koplas, Hayden, Antunez, and Lessard defeated their opponents in either two or three sets.

For doubles, John Freund (senior) and Jones won 6-0, 6-0, Patel and Ford earned a 6-1, 6-0 victory, and Otrin and Schilling won 6-0, 6-0.

On May 11, the Knights defeated Montville with a 7-0 sweep. Koplas defeated his opponent in two sets (6-0, 6-0), Hayden in two sets (6-3, 6-0), and Antunez won in three sets (6-3, 3-6, and 6-3).

On the doubles side, Jones and Freund won in straight sets (6-2, 6-0). Patel and Ford won in three sets (6-3, 3-6, and 6-1). Otrin and Schilling won in straight sets (6-1, 5-7).

A couple days later, Westbrook traveled to Ledyard and defeated the home team 6-1. Koplas (6-1, 6-1) and Antunez (6-0, 6-2) won in straight sets for singles. Hayden put up a tough battle, however, he lost his match (6-3, 6-1).

For doubles, both Jones and Freund (6-1, 6-2), and Otrin and Schilling (6-1, 5-1) won in straight sets. Patel and Ford won in three sets (6-2, 6-7).

The Knights played host to New London on May 17 and again earned a 7-0 victory. Koplas (6-0, 6-0) and Antunez (6-1, 6-2) won in straight sets, and Hayden (6-3, 5-7, 7-6) and Carlos Solis (senior, 4-6, 6-0, 7-6) each won in three sets.

The doubles pairings of Freund and Jones (6-1, 6-1), Patel and Ford (6-0, 6-0), and Otrin and Schilling (6-0, 6-2) all earned victories in straight sets.

To wrap up the regular season, the Knights traveled to London on May 22 and won 7-0.

Over the past seven years, Westbrook has won four Shoreline Athletic Conference (SLC) Championships and completed three undefeated seasons despite being the smallest school in the conference.

The Knights undefeated record this spring certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, as they have competed against tough competition along the way. Heading into the Class S State Tournament, the Knights are seeded at No.1 and will have a bye week for the first round. Despite being at the top, Shapiro certainly knows that the boys can’t rest on any past laurels and will have to treat every match like it’s their last.

“There has been very stiff competition this year. H-K, Cromwell, Morgan, Valley, and Old Lyme are all very talented teams,” said Shapiro. “We may face them again in the state tournament. All of those teams are capable of defeating us if we do not play well and keep our focus. The state tournament is very, very difficult. I know Stonington is a monster team, and there are some other very tough opponents, including the five Shoreline teams mentioned above. The most important thing is to stick to our principles and make a team beat us, meaning not playing scared. If we fight for every single point, and a team defeats us, we will shake hands respectfully and move on, but a loss where we are too tentative or we leave the court without using our strengths to our fullest is not acceptable.”

Shapiro is assisted by Jeff Beeman who was the former varsity boys’ basketball coach at Westbrook.

The Knights team roster is comprised of Ford, Freund, Christopher Howe (senior), Koplas, Patel, Solis, Nicholas English (junior), Junkyu Ham (junior), Schilling, Antunez, Hayden, Otrin, and Lessard.

Westbrook Boys’ Tennis 2024 Schedule and Results:

April 1: Westbrook 7, Haddam Killingworth 0

April 4: Westbrook 6, Cromwell 1

April 9: Westbrook 7, Old Saybrook 0

April 16: Westbrook 6, Coginchaug 1

April 17: Westbrook 7, Grasso Tech 0

April 19: Westbrook 6, East Hampton/Portland 1

April 22: Westbrook 7, Morgan 0

April 24: Westbrook 4, Valley Regional 3

April 26: Westbrook 7, Old Lyme 0

April 29: Westbrook 4, Haddam Killingworth 3

May 1: Westbrook 6, Old Saybrook 1

May 3: Westbrook 4, Valley Regional 3

May 6: Westbrook 6, Cromwell 1

May 8: Westbrook 7, Grasso Tech 0

May 11: Westbrook 7, Montville 0

May 13: Westbrook 6, Montville 0

May 17: Westbrook 6, Ledyard 1

May 18: Westbrook 7, New London 0

May 22: Westbrook 7, New London 0