Greenwich boys tennis ready to repeat last year’s success

Grant Wang returns a volley during Monday’s game. — John Ferris Robben

Greenwich High School’s Grant Wang returns a volley during Monday’s game. — John Ferris Robben

When the season ended last year for the Greenwich High School boys tennis team, it was obvious change was coming.
After an undefeated regular season and taking home both the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the CIAC class LL championships, Big Red was on top of the high school tennis world in Connecticut.

However. when it was time to close the books on the 2013 campaign, that meant losing its dominating top three singles players,

Blake Niehaus, Zach Niklaus and Tatsuya Tasaki have been consistently successful during their tenure with the Cardinals. Going into the class LL championship last year, Niklaus was seeded third, Niehaus was fourth and Tasaki was a No. 8 seed.

“Before the season even started, I sat down with the captains and some of the players and they all know that we graduated our top three singles last year,” Greenwich High School head coach Richard Lane said. “It’s not a secret. We had great success during FCIACs and States. The upperclassmen said that it’s not going to be like that this year. However, without a doubt, I think we are competitive this year. This team has the potential of being a very strong force this year.”

Despite the loss of talent, Greenwich High hasn’t missed a beat. The Cards are currently 4-0 and on Monday afternoon continued their winning ways by crushing Trinity Catholic High School, 7-0. In fact, in the team’s first four games this year, it hasn’t let up a game.

“We have a tremendous amount of depth,” Lane said. “When people are sick, it doesn’t affect the outcome. We are really deep and that’s going to be huge for us. We have a really good team and I think they will do very well this year. We have a lot of big shoes to fill. There’s a lot of pride and tradition that comes along with the Greenwich boys tennis program over the years.”

Greenwich’s two captains this year will be Ari Cepelwicz and Shaw Speer, two athletes very familiar with the GHS tennis program. Cepelwicz will be Greenwich’s No. 1 singles player, while Speer will join Louis McKenzie at No. 1 doubles.

Greenwich High School’s Mike Woodbury goes up for the serve during Monday’s match against Trinity Catholic. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School’s Mike Woodbury goes up for the serve during Monday’s match against Trinity Catholic. — John Ferris Robben photo

“They make things very enjoyable and very easy here,” Lane said. “They care more about the team than their own personal records and it shows in everything that they do. They care a tremendous amount about the team. Their personal record matters to them only when it hopefully helps the team go far in States and FCIACs. We have strong leadership in both singles and doubles and they both set a high bar, not just in terms of ability, but how they conduct themselves. They set a tone on the team.”

What makes Cepelwicz’s game so strong is that Lane believes his ace is one of the most deceptively athletic players he’s ever seen.

“He is incredibly fast and has incredibly fast wrists,” Lane said. “He has virtually no backswing on his backhand, but yet he uses his opponent’s power against them. He’s very smart and incredibly gifted and deciding when to go for a shot and when to wait for his opponent to make a mistake.”

According to Lane, Speer is an extremely smart doubles player, knowing when to hit out or go for the passing shot or when to go to slice and get to the net and put the volley away.

“He mixes up the pace of his play very well,” Lane said. “He is so smart at tennis that he knows what to do to get out of situations and turn them into his advantage.”

Chris Salisbury will be playing at No. 2 singles, while Dickon Hollister is at No. 3 singles.

“Chris does a really good job adjusting on the fly,” Lane said. When we were at Scarsdale, he lost the first set, adjusted his game and come back to dominate the rest of the way. He’s very smart and doesn’t get down on himself. Dickon is an unbelievable athlete. He’s so fast and has gifted wrists. He can hit shots that I couldn’t even think of hitting. It’s very impressive to watch.”

Greenwich No. 4 and No. 5 singles are still up in the air, but Marcos Eslava, Jacob Cohen and Axel Hebrand all are  finding their way into the starting lineup throughout the season.

A mainstay in doubles for Greenwich has been the play of its No. 1 doubles team, the duo of Speer and McKenzie.

“This is their fourth year playing together,” Lane said. “Louis hits a lot harder, has an incredible serve and is more aggressive. Their games are different, so opponents have a hard time adjusting. Normally in doubles there is someone you can pick on. However, if you try to pick on Louis, he’s just going to out-hit you. If you pick on Shaw, he’s going to out-think you. Together their games complement each other really well.”

At the beginning of the season, the team of Tyler Dagnino and Trent Newman were Greenwich’s No. 2 doubles team. However, Newman’s recent injury has forced Lane and the Cards to scramble in an attempt to find a solid No. 2 doubles team.

As of press time, Mac Minichetti has filled the role quite nicely.

“We are hoping he will come back soon,” Lane said. “Max has defined a team member really well. We’ve had people sick or injured and I’ve put him in a bunch of different positions. He’s such a team player and only cares about making the team better.”

A lot of Greenwich’s stiffest competition will take place at the end of the season, as it will travel up to Ridgefield High School before closing out the season at home against Staples High School.

“We are going to meet some really good teams along the way,” Lane said. “If we play to the way I think we can, Greenwich can have another really good season.”

Against the Crusaders on Monday, Greenwich couldn’t be stopped. Hebrand, Eslava, Cohen, Robert Graham and Henry Ricciardi took the top five spots in singles and each came away with the 6-0, 6-0 victory. In doubles, the No. 2 team of Pato Houson and Mikey Woodbury also were straight set victors for GHS. At No. 1 doubles, the team of Dagnino and Minichetti finished off their opponents 6-0, 6-1.

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