Staples fends off New Canaan to reach FCIAC boys tennis final
WESTPORT -- Widely heralded as an individual sport, tennis at the junior and college levels hinges on the team concept.
Those with the individual talent that fail to embrace it usually don't last long.
But what has made both Staples and New Canaan so successful this year -- and seasons past -- is making a dozen or so players battle for one another, which was never more evident than during the FCIAC semifinals between the two schools on Wednesday.
In a rematch of last season's league championship in which the Rams thwarted the Wreckers' quest for perfection, top-seeded Staples, again undefeated, quickly raced to a three-point lead, unable to exhale until the No. 2 doubles team of Josh Kaseff and Steve Thomson clinched the match, 4-2.
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After the fourth-seeded Rams clawed back to within one, the tandem, with their only other hope cramping up in No. 3 singles the next court over, felt the weight of the match on their shoulders, outlasting Connor Hedley and Luke McDermott 6-1, 7-6 (4).
"It felt amazing," said Kaseff, who smashed match point to clinch a final round berth against No. 2 Greenwich today. "This is my first year on varsity and it's just a great feeling to win. The whole team came together for a great win."
Danny Hirschberg continued his undefeated season at the top singles spot with a straight-set victory over Chase Urban while Jesse Heussner made quick work of his opponent at No. 4 singles, giving Staples (19-0, 18-0 FCIAC) a 2-0 lead.
A backbreaker against most other teams, Staples pushed New Canaan (17-4, 14-4) to the brink with Luke Foreman's win over Tom Worcester on the lower court at No. 5 singles.
However, the Rams, who limped into the playoffs with three-straight league losses (including a 4-3 loss to Staples), weren't going to let the chance to defend its title slip away that quickly.
Meanwhile, on the upper court, New Canaan junior Nick Laub walked the tightrope of focusing on his match while being aware of the situation on the other courts.
At No. 2 singles, he and Jake Hirschberg, who share a history of playing against each other in big matches, didn't disappoint.
Laub beat Hirschberg (then at No. 4 singles) in three sets last season to clinch the Rams' first FCIAC title since 1995, and Hirschberg took down Laub in the regular season (also three sets) to keep Staples' undefeated streak alive. This time, after dropping the first set, Laub rebounded to beat his cramping counterpart (5-7, 6-3, 6-3), inching his Rams to within win of tying the match.
"We gave them a great fight," Laub said. "I know everyone left it out on the court. They just came out stronger today. I mean, what can you say? They won the bigger points. I think we gave them a good fight."
New Canaan coach Dan Borgman was proud of the effort.
"We almost came back, but it wasn't close," Borgman said. "Every point was well played. There's no shame in these guys, and we're looking forward to the states."
Staples now sits in position to join elite company with an undefeated record and a chance at the school's first title since 2001.
Wreckers coach Kris Hrisovulos, part of two undefeated teams a decade ago, put it all on the table for his boys.
"We know the bullseye is on us, but we talk about the bullseye being very small," said Hrisovulos, a 2000 graduate. "And they've got to hit it so well for us to not win. It's not big enough where a couple hits are going to knock it -- you've got to hit it perfectly."