New Canaan High School's boys tennis team took an interesting path to its fourth straight Class L state championship this past season.
The Rams capped off their successful campaign by beating themselves -- and with players out of their familiar positions on the court. The doubles champions, a tandem of New Canaan's top singles player Nick Laub and one of its No. 1 doubles players, Patrick Newton, won the title. They defeated teammates Devin McVeigh, the No. 4 singles player and Jacob Reiss, the other top doubles player, 6-1, 6-2 in the pinnacle match in early June.
New Canaan scored 21 points to beat out runners-up Fairfield Warde and Daniel Hand of Madison (15 points apiece) with relative ease, giving coach Dan Borgman yet another state championship. Borgman earned his 28th title in his 41st season.
"Part of the reason we've won those state championships is we always challenge ourselves against the toughest teams around," said Borgman, whose Rams, in addition to facing top notch FCIAC foes such as LL champion and runner-up Greenwich and Staples of Westport, took on Fox Lane of New York and tough South-West Conference team Weston in regular season matches, in addition to taking on always difficult Fairfield Prep and Cheshire in scrimmages.
"For the most part we won the ones we were expected to on paper and we won some great matches individually," said Borgman, whose team lost only to Greenwich, Staples and Ridgefield in the regular season before falling to Westhill in the FCIAC tournament's opening round. "We had some stronger teams in the league than we've had," said the coach, referring to improved FCIAC rivals, including Ridgefield and Westhill.
The coach noted that a key point in the season came in an early April win over Fairfield Warde. The Rams, who typically don't struggle against the Mustangs, fought to a tough 4-3 victory, which Borgman said was a bit of a wakeup call for his squad.
The Rams went on to dominate Norwalk 6-1 before reeling off three straight 7-0 triumphs en route to a 16-3 regular season.
"Overall, the guys worked hard -- probably harder than we ever had," Borgman said.
Each of the FCIAC teams in the Rams' state class size -- Fairfield Warde, Fairfield Ludlowe, Darien and Wilton -- were squads the Rams had beaten during the regular campaign. That being the case, Borgman entered into the state tourney thinking his team had a good chance to successfully defend its title. He had to do a little tinkering with the lineup to make that happen.
Laub had been New Canaan's top singles player, but an arm injury that hampered him during the campaign left the top singles player struggling to utilize his powerful backhand shot, Borgman noted. So, the coach took some of the burden off his ace player by moving him into the doubles bracket in the Class L tourney. The move certainly paid off.
"It was nice to see it happen," Borgman said. "I was very pleased for him."
"It was unbelievable. I think it was a really fitting end," said Laub, noting that he got to win a title by combining efforts with Newton, a team co-captain and his best friend. Laub added that he was initially disappointed to not have a chance to win a singles championship but that the doubles win, in helping the more important overall team triumph, put things into perspective.
Another player whom Borgman was particularly pleased with for his state tourney run was third singles player Tommy Worcester. As the No. 10 seed, Worcester pushed top-seeded and eventual champion Noah Farrell of Wilton to a third set tiebreaker in the quarterfinals. Farrell prevailed 7-6, 1-6, 7-6.
With multiple matches unfolding simultaneously, Borgman says he typically doesn't get too caught up in one particular competition but admits this one had him hooked.
"I was engrossed with this match," he said. "I was glued to this match. That was a very heart-pounding match to watch."
Graduation claimed Laub, Newton and his regular doubles partner Reiss, along with No. 2 doubles player Luke McDermott. Borgman is excited about the prospects for next year with No. 2 singles player Will Burger, who lost just once this past year, among a strong group of returnees.
Then there are several up and coming players whom the coach said he had a tough time cutting from the varsity lineup but thought they would thrive with more playing time at the junior varsity level.
"I'm looking forward to seeing some of these JV players," Borgman said.