SHREWSBURY, Mass. — Sharon girls’ tennis coach Diane Micheroni had a simple message to her two doubles teams as the Eagles soared through their journey to St. John Shrewsbury’s tennis complex Wednesday afternoon.
“On the bus I looked at my doubles and said, ‘We’re going to have to count on you today,'” Micheroni said. “‘You’re going to have to pull through and play smart tennis.'”
With the Eagles holding onto a narrow 2-1 lead and Longmeadow’s No. 2 singles making a late push, Sharon needed to count on its second doubles pair of junior Rithika Neti and freshman Sophia Fein to cap off its perfect season.
After splitting the first two sets 6-3 and 3-6, Neti and Fein saved their best tennis of the evening for the most critical moment of the Eagles’ season. The duo was in sync on almost every serve and returned everything the Lancers hit their way. After returning a serve, Neti returned a volley that hit off Longmeadow rocket and out to secure a 26-0 record and a Division 1 state championship – the first in program history.
“I just don’t even know, I don’t know what to say,” Neti said as she was holding back tears of joy after the match win. “It was just, finally. I mean honestly this was such a team effort and we put in so many hours and so much work all season. To win the state championship for the team, it’s really awesome.”
“There was a lot of pressure on them and they stood to it and they took the victory,” Micheroni said of the No. 2 doubles partners. “They weren’t going to let them take it away from them. I’m proud of them.”
The Eagles jumped out to an early lead after junior Lulu Yuan swept No. 3 singles 6-1, 6-0. Yaun finished the season undefeated at third singles in match play. Lancer No. 1 single Iris Gallo was very impressive, defeating Sharon sophomore Nupur Shukla 6-1, 6-1 to tie the match at one.
Echoing Micheroni’s earlier statements, Sharon’s No. 1 doubles pair of Junior Katie Merport and Emily Wen took care of business in straight sets 6-2, 6-4.
With the No. 2 singles match taking an intermission before the tie-breaking set after Lancer Hallie Gallo took the first set 6-4 and Sharon freshman Emily Zhang winning the second 6-4, almost everyone in attendance shifted their focus to the second doubles pair.
Despite Hallie Gallo eventually winning the tie-breaker 6-4, for Longmeadow the Eagles had already been crowned champions
“My doubles teams came through in this match,” Micheroni said. “The singles get a lot of attention, but I always say titles and championships are won by your doubles and they came through. They did come through today. I’m very proud of them – the whole team.”
Sharon Athletic Director Bill Martin praised Micheroni’s leadership and how Sharon hopes to remain a successful program for years to come.
“They’re bringing a state championship home with a team that’s basically all going to return next year — we have one senior on the team,” Martin said. “We have a head coach and two assistants that have been class acts and have taught our kids unbelievable lessons throughout the year. I mean, they’re 26-0. What more can you ask for?”
As sweet of a moment Wednesday’s win was for the entire Eagles team and community, it even meant a little bit extra to Sophia Fein.
Following the No. 2 doubles win and amidst her teammate’s hugs and screams of jubilation at the center of Court 5, Sophia turned and found one of her biggest supporters, mentors and role models standing there to greet her.
Her brother, Griffin, a two-time Hockomock League MVP, awaited with open arms as his younger sister walked off the court a state champion after he had rushed over from across town following the boys’ championship match earlier that afternoon.
“He’s the tennis star of the family, but he’s brought me up in it,” Sophia said. “Every time before I have a match he texts me good luck. He’s like, ‘hit hard, you know how to do this.’ For him to be here, to see the last couple of points, especially since he’s normally playing when I’m playing, he hasn’t really gotten a chance to watch me. That was pretty special.”
Said Martin: “That’s what sports are supposed to be about — relationships. You don’t often see the relationships between brother and sister in high school sports. Griffin is one of the classiest kids I’ve ever met. Great family. I’m just getting to know Sophia and it’s a credit to what they are as a family because they support each other. It makes you proud to be an Eagle.”
With the boys’ side having a long, decorated history and the entire team in attendance to support their counterparts, this was the first state championship appearance for the girls team in school history. The Eagles’ 26-0 mark also is the best season in the program’s history.
“It’s just something that you always dream of that you could attain, but they did it and they pulled it off,” Micheroni said. “That’s just such a hard thing to do.”
“This is an awesome team and an awesome lineup,” Neti said. “I’m so proud of everyone on this team. Every single one. It got us through the season, won matches for us.”
Wayland’s singles too much to handle
Earlier in the afternoon, the boys’ team sought redemption from their 2015 state championship defeat against Wayland High School after the Warriors narrowly took the title 3-2 two years ago.
Wayland once again got the better of the Eagles, sweeping singles play en route to a 4-1 victory in the Eastern Massachusetts boys’ Division 2 Final at Shrewsbury High School.
“I knew how good their singles were,” Griffin Fein said. “We were confident in our doubles, always — our doubles are so good. This is what we expected. We expected the state championship to be this tough and that’s what we got. We’re happy with whatever the outcome is. We played out best.”
With the Eagles already behind 2-0 after victories in singles No. 1 and 3, junior Fred Bondar battled back and forth with the Warriors’ Jaylen Wang in the second singles match. Wang took the first set 7-6 (7-4) and ended up taking the second 6-3 with Bondar battling calf cramps in a frame that was much closer than the final score indicated.
“It’s always tough going up against Jaylen [Wong]. He’s a great player,” Bondar said, the two had previously faced-off in the 2015 contest. “There are very few things that I would go back and change if I could. I gave it my all and frankly I thought I played pretty well.”
“I think he played better than I did. I wasn’t cramping in the first set and he took that.” Bondar added. “I just think when I was coming back in the second set I gave it my all, but my right calf was sort of giving out. I don’t think that made or break anything. I still gave it my all and gave my best.”
Griffin Fein dropped No. 1 singles against Georgetown-bound Charlie Sharton 6-0, 6-1, while Wayland’s Will Barton also gave the Warriors an early lead defeating Andre Olivei 6-2, 6-1 putting Sharon in an early hole.
Much like Wang and Bondar, Fein and Sharton also faced each other in the 2015 final with Sharton winning in straight sets.
“I knew it was going to be the same kind of situation going into the match and I wanted to give him a battle. I had some good points against him today,” Griffin Fein said. “I had to play perfect if I wanted to beat him. … he’s just a hell of a player.”
Alex Romantz and Alberto Olivei took home the lone Sharon victory of the day in No. 1 doubles. The pair dropped the first set 6-7 (6-8) but would rally back to defeat Wayland’s Gage Fuller and Will Gardner in set two, 6-3, and three, 6-1. Romantz and Olivei finished unbeaten as a team in 2017.
In No. 2 doubles, the Eagles’ Danujan Thirumavalavan and Max Brody took the first set 6-3, before dropping the second and third sets, both by a score of 7-5.
“We knew [the Warriors] were tough,” Sharon coach Joan Cutter said. “We’ve come so far, we had a great season with great guys and they’ve worked really hard. They were 23-0.”
Despite the Eagles coming up just short of the championship, Cutter had nothing but good things to say about their season as a whole.
“They’re just the best people,” Cutter added. “I love it. I love their effort and their dedication. It’s just been a wonderful story — the whole thing.”