NC resident leads NCCS to unbeaten season
The 2018 New Canaan Country School squash team finished the year with a sparkling 32-0 record, led largely by top player James Kontulis.
“During my 12 years at New Canaan Country School, I have participated in and played many different sports. However, of all of them, squash has been the most challenging,” said Kontulis in remarks delivered at the school’s end-of-term sports assembly, Feb. 26. James, a ninth grader at the Pre-K through Grade 9 independent, day school, was one of two student-athletes selected to speak at the event.
“Squash may seem like an individual sport, but it’s also very much a team sport. As a team, we have accomplished a lot,” said Kontulis, who served as co-captain of the 2017-2018 season. “In the past three years, we achieved a team record of 32-0, three undefeated seasons, a top-three finish at U.S. Middle School Nationals and a Division V Championship at the U.S. High School Nationals.”
Coach Cynthia Badan was quick to laud Kontulis, who has been her top player for several years.
The school’s 13-member, co-ed, varsity squash team is comprised of seventh, eighth and ninth graders.
“James has been our No. 1 player on the ladder since 2015,” Badan said. “His individual record is outstanding. In the past three years, he has won 28 of 32 competitive matches and went undefeated at the Middle School Nationals. His skilled technique is immediately apparent, but it is his work ethic, desire to improve and camaraderie with his teammates that make him an exceptional athlete and team leader.”
Besides being an excellent player, Kontulis is an excellent teammate.
“One of my favorite moments was last year,” said Kontulis at the assembly. “I watched Ella Schoonmaker and Mary Duffy compete with us in the boy’s division of the High School Nationals. I have a lot of respect for how the girls handled that. They are mentally tough. They were in seventh grade at the time and their opponents were these six-feet-tall high school seniors. I really enjoyed watching them just crush these guys who had been smiling and laughing with way too much confidence before they went on court. Let me just say, they were wearing a much different expression at the end of their matches.”
His experience lent itself easily to a leadership role.
“James is wonderfully inclusive and personable,” Badan said. “He is always quick to step on-court to warm up or drill younger players and he makes a point of really knowing and enjoying his teammates. On the bus, he is often asking about how a teammate’s weekend was, or how a test turned out. During matches, he is always offering insightful comments in between games, never adding pressure, but recommending strategies in a friendly, calm manner.”
As far as he has come, it is going to be wonderful to see just how far he goes with his talents in the next few years.”
James, a son of New Canaan residents Elizabeth and Chuck Kontulis, plans to continue playing competitive squash in secondary school.
“Overall, I have taken a lot of pride and joy in being a part of this team,” Kontulis said. “The future of Country School squash looks bright. I am glad that I was a part of the foundation of this program and I look forward to coming back to watch a few matches.”