Sharon Girls Tennis Soars To First State Championship

Sharon girls tennis
The Sharon boys and girls tennis teams pose for a photo after their state final matches. (Bill Martin/Twitter)
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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
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“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.”

Eagles Earn D1 South Title Behind Singles Sweep

Sharon girls tennis
Sharon’s Lulu Yuan returns a serve in third singles against Wellesley. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSpors.com)
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HINGHAM, Mass. – Shortly after last year’s D1 South Sectional Final, Sharon girls tennis coach Diane Micheroni made it clear that the plan was for Eagles to be back in the same spot again.

Not only did they make the return trip, this time around they walked away with the win and the D1 South title.

After falling to Wellesley in the South final a year ago, top-seeded Sharon exacted some revenge this time around, sweeping singles play for a 3-2 win over the previously unbeaten and second-seeded Raiders.

Click here for a photo gallery from this match.

While most programs make it a goal to get this far, Micheroni had the confidence to pencil it in that the Eagles would be back.

“They never give up,” Micheroni said of her now 23-0 Eagles. “They just work real hard, every practice, every match. They were just waiting for this day and they really came through, I’m really proud of them.”

Part of the reason for the confidence was that Sharon brought its two top singles players back from last year’s squad, plus a handful of experienced doubles players.

And on top of that, the Eagles got a huge boost with the addition of freshman Emily Zhang, who has started at second singles all season.

With Zhang in the fold, junior Lulu Yuan – the 2015 Hockomock League MVP – made the switch from first singles to third singles, and sophomore Nupur Shukla moved up from second to third singles.

“It was crazy, it was so emotional,” Yuan said of the win. “We’ve been waiting for this moment. I knew that this year, with this team, we would win.”

Yuan put the Eagles on the board first in the match, quickly jumping out to a 4-1 lead before winning the first set 6-1. The second set didn’t take much time as Yuan finished off her opponent in similar fashion, walking away with a straight set 6-1, 6-1 win.

Yuan, who was named team MVP, has taken the move from first to third singles in stride.

“I think it was really beneficial for the entire team,” Yuan said. “I know that getting a win at third singles get help the team win the match. Having players like Nupur and Emily that I can depend on, it’s really helpful. I love my position.”

Yuan is unbeaten on the year, and has only lost a total of four games – two of which came against the Raiders.

“She’s just phenomenal,” Micheroni said of Yuan. “It says so much about her because her primary interest is the team. She’s the heart of the team, she leads them. She went out there this season and set a goal to not drop a game all season. She really gave herself something to aspire to and to make her game better. So many other people would have done the opposite in her situation. She really played with class all season.”

The Raiders evened the match at one game apiece with a win at second doubles. Sharon’s Rithica Neti and Sophia Fein had tied the match early in the second set, but eventually fell 2-6, 3-6.

Click here for a photo gallery from this match.

Sharon moved back into the driver’s seat as Zhang came away with an impressive win at second singles. Zhang jumped out to a 2-1 lead over Wellesley’s Caitlin Avery, one of the top singles players in the area, and won the first set 6-3.

Zhang didn’t slow down at all, going ahead 3-0 in the second set and eventually scoring a 6-2 win at the second set to put the Eagles up 2-1.

“I thought I was able play pretty consistent and place the ball well and make her move,” Zhang said. “Moving her around caused some mistakes for her.”

“Enormous addition to the team – she’s such an integral part of our team,” Micheroni said of Zhang. “She goes in there and she does her job. She’s very precise, she’s very consistent – she does just her job.”

That put all the eyes on first singles. With first doubles split one set apiece, the teams took a timeout as first singles finished.

Shukla built a 3-0 lead in the first set only for Wellesley freshman sensation Alex Coleman to win three of the next four, cutting the lead to one. Shukla came through, taking the first set 6-3.

At the time of the break, Coleman held a 4-3 lead in the second set. The two split the next two sets, giving Coleman a 5-4 edge and just four points away from forcing a third set.

Instead, Shukla – who was down 0-15 and 30-40 and just one point away from a third set – rallied, tied it at 40-all, won the advantage point and won the next point to tie it at 5-5.

Coleman, who was serving, raced out to a 40-0 lead, again just one point away from winning the next point. But Shukla had other plans, rattling off five straight points to take a 6-5 lead in the set.

“I was just trying to get my serves in, I wasn’t going hard with them because I noticed she liked that pace,” Shukla said. “And then I wanted to keep it on her forehand because she kept ripping her backhand shots down the line.”

It was time for Coleman to rally, overcoming a 0-30 hole and winning the point to make it 6-6, sending the second set into a tiebreaker.

“I couldn’t see myself playing a third set,” Shukla said. “I had my teammates and the crowd cheering so me and I knew that if I put my mind to it, I could pull through, which I’m glad I did.”

With the momentum of her side, Coleman jumped out to 3-0 lead, the last point coming a spectacular shot down the line. But once again, with her back against the wall, Shukla rallied with four straight points to go up 4-3.

After Coleman tied the game, two straight points from Shukla made it 6-4. Coleman cut it to one again but Shukla finished the tiebreaker off with a great shot that forced an error, giving her a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win and the Eagles the clinching point for the sectional title.

“I always say Nupur is the rock of our team,” Micheroni said. “She never falters, she has sheer determination out there and she’s never going to back down from an opponent. And you saw it today, that’s how she plays.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this match.

“I know that she has a lot of fight in her, we knew she’d be able to come back,” Zhang said of Shukla’s clinching point. “Even if she’s a couple games down, she’s not out of it, she can come back.”

“She’s an amazing player and a great teammate,” Yuan said of Shukla. “I never doubted that should we be able to pull it out and win.”

Sharon’s second doubles resumed play before Shukla’s win in a tiebreaker, so the match went to a third set instead of a 10-point tiebreaker. Katie Merport and Emily Wen, who won the first set 6-4 but lost the second set 3-6, fell behind 1-4 in the third set.

But even with the title clinched, the Eagles’ duo didn’t give up and battled all the way back to tie the match 5-5. With very little light left to work with – the match now over three hours long – it was agreed to send the match into a tiebreaker. Wellesley won the tiebreaker, 7-0.

Sharon girls tennis moves on to the D1 State Semifinals on Monday, June 12th. The Eagles will play the North champs, Westford Academy (13-5) at Newton North High School at 3:30.

Sharon Boys, Girls Tennis Both Ousted In South Final

Sharon tennis
Sharon’s Emily Wen and Adam Dobbin compete in the South Final. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)

ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
ROCKLAND, Mass. – Not many teams have been able to beat the Sharon boys and girls tennis teams this year, and it took an extraordinary effort for it to happen in the sectional finals.

Wellesley girls used a win at third singles, a tiebreaker win in the second set at first singles and a third set victory at second doubles for the Raiders to beat the Sharon girls, 3-2 in the D1 South Final.

And the Duxbury boys took a win in straight sets at first singles and then fended off rallies at second and third singles, winning both in three sets to edge the Sharon boys, 3-2 in the D2 South Final.

The Sharon girls team was up first, facing off against the top-seeded Raiders (19-0). The Eagles were able to jump out to a lead with wins at first doubles and second singles to go up 2-0.

Freshman Nupur Shulka concluded her stellar rookie campaign with a quick 6-4, 6-2 win at second singles. Shulka rallied from a 3-4 deficit in the first set with three straight wins to clinch the first set. The freshman was in control throughout in the second set, jumping out to a 4-1 lead before finishing off Wellesley’s Caitlyn Avery.

“And she’s going to be even better next year,” beamed Sharon head coach Diane Micheroni. “She’s determined, she plans on working hard all of summer so we’re excited for next year, we want to build a powerhouse in both singles and doubles.”

The Eagles were forced to mix up their doubles teams after senior Pooja Puttigampala, a four time league all star, was forced to miss the match with a death in the family. Katie Merport made the jump from second doubles to pair up with Michal Kondratiev

The switch didn’t hurt the Eagles though as the two led throughout the entire match, picking up a 6-3, 6-3 win.

Wellesley battled back with Ashley Avery, the South sectional individual champion this season, getting a 6-3 win in the first set and then taking a thrilling 9-7 tiebreaker to get a 7-6 win in the second set over Sharon sophomore Lulu Yuan. Wellesley tied the game at 2-2 with a win at third singles in straight sets.

“She certainly battled,” Micheroni said. “Am I surprised? No. I know she has the capability, she has a great game and we’re excited to have her back next year.”

Sharon’s newly formed second doubles team of Rithica Neti and Sydney Gordon, who had only played together once before, battled back from a 3-4 deficit in the second set, eventually scoring a 7-3 win in a tiebreaker to get the 7-6 win and force a third set.

“What they did today was very impressive,” Micheroni said. “Especially with Sydney stepping into a situation where she hasn’t seen much. She hasn’t played in any playoff matches yet, she was fantastic though, I couldn’t ask more for her.”

Wellesley’s pair of Pooja Reddy and Alexis Tsang showed off their experience together, scoring a 6-2 victory in the final set to secure the match and the title.

“I’m proud of the girls,” Micheroni said. “They are a great team and they fought hard. It came down to the third set, so what more could you ask. The kids were great all year and all of the matches were close today.”

“We look strong for next year,” Micheroni said. “We’re losing both of our number one doubles [to graduation] but our number two doubles should be able to step right up. They were split up today but I think Katie Merport and Rithica Neti are ready to step up next year. Then we have some freshman, some JV kids that are just waiting for their turn. Our plan is to be here again next year.”

The top-seeded Sharon boys team jumped out to a quick lead as well in their match against #2 Duxbury but the Dragons fired off wins at all three singles matches to get the win.

“They are just an amazing group of very smart, devoted, hardworking guys,” Sharon head coach Joan Cutter said.

The Eagles absolutely dominated doubles play, taking a lead right off the bat in both matches and never looked back.

Freshman Danujan Thirumavalavan and senior Tilak Mehta dominated at second doubles, losing just one match in a 6-1, 6-0 win to give Sharon a 1-0 lead.

Adam Dobbin and Alex Romantz both had strong serves and used the full court to their advantage with a handful of nice shots down the line. The pair, which has been terrific all season, concluded their season with a 6-3, 6-1 win and gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead.

“The doubles have really learned to play together as a team,” Cutter said. “Every time I went over there, they were fine. They did what they needed to do, they were great. And they all want to be playing singles too. Tilak and Danujan really wanted to play singles but they were willing to learn to play doubles together.”

Duxbury’s Eric Sewald brought the Dragons right back in, using a torrid serve to sweep Sharon’s Griffin Fein, the Hockomock League MVP this year, 6-0, 6-0 at first singles.

Sharon sophomore Fred Bondar impressed with a comeback at second singles after losing the first set. Bondar settled in and picked up a 6-4 win in the second set but Duxbury’s Ethan Mall tied the match 2-2 with a win in the third set.

That meant the match came down to Sharon senior Han Cui, who entered the contest unbeaten this season, and Duxbury junior Jack Simon.

Simon overcame an early deficit to take the first set, 6-4. Cui did the same in the second set, coming back to win 6-3 and force a deciding third set. Simon jumped out to a 4-1 lead and then a 5-2 advantage. Cui fought off match point twice to win two sets to close the gap to one. Cui carried the momentum and looked to have tied the match when his long floated shot hit the line but his shot was called out, clinching the win for Duxbury.

“Han’s just amazing, he’s so steady,” Cutter said. “He’s going to Dartmouth next year. I think he was actually a little nervous. His opponent played very well in the first set but Han got in there in the second, he’s very analytical and figures out his opponent and how to play him. In the third set, his opponent played very. very well.

“He played his own style, his own way. If anyone could have done it, with that kind of pressure, it would be Han.”

Sharon girls tennis finishes the season at 19-1 but the future looks bright with all three singles players back as well as second doubles. Sharon boys tennis finishes 20-2 overall and will bring back both first and second singles, as well as Alex Romantz and Danujan Thirumavalavan from doubles play.