by Andrew Garda
NEWARK—It was a disappointing Saturday for both the Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy’s boys tennis team in their Essex County Tournament. Both squads were hoping to move past their semifinal matches, but unfortunately both fell short on April 27.
MKA, the No. 5 seeded team, lost in straight sets to top-seeded Newark Academy, while the second-seeded Mounties fell to Livingston 4-1.
Both the Cougars and the Mounties faced significant hurdles in their quests for a finals appearance.
For MHS’ part, second and third singles players Kevin and Andrew Wallace were not available. While the Wallace brothers have been a big part of the Mounties’ success at singles this year, the impact went beyond losing them as singles.
Their absence forced head coach Guy Rabner to shift around his lineup considerably, moving doubles players Charles Becker and DJ Finnell up to singles, while promoting junior varsity players Liam Rougebec and Leon Wang to second doubles.
While the result was not a win—senior and top singles player Leo Kupferman got the Mounties sole win—Montclair showed a lot of heart, battling in each game.
Having Kupferman is always a huge help, Rabner said, and especially on a day like Saturday.
“He’s a competitor, and he’s won a lot of good matches for us this year,” Rabner said of his top player.
Finnell was especially tough, beating Livingston third single Max Esralew in their first set 6-4, before dropping the second, but pushing the match to a third set. Even that went right down to the wire, as a visibly tired Finnell worked hard to steal a win, finally falling just short by a score of 7-5.
“He fought hard, and look, that’s what you want. You want your kids out here fighting hard, competing,” Rabner said. “I think he got tired and got a little down, because he missed a few match points that I think he feels he probably should have won. That kind of got him down and he couldn’t really recover after that.”
Fighting hard has been the narrative for the season, as Montclair hangs in games and doesn’t shy away from tough competition.
“We’ve lost a couple of close matches, which was a little disappointing, but we’ve competed against some of the best teams in the state,” said Rabner. “I feel like our kids have really fought hard in every match.”
Despite the absence of some key pieces, Rabner said the team did very well.
“I felt like we fought hard and did better than people thought we would do. We competed hard and that’s all I can ask for my kids. Hopefully, we’ll see them again in the states and get another chance.”
While MHS was missing players, MKA was facing a Newark Academy team that beat the Cougars on April 11. So the team knew what they were in for and coach Bill Wing thought they stepped up.
“We played them better today,” Wing said after the match. “It was the county semis and we just tried to play as hard as we could. I’m happy with our effort.”
Wing said the biggest hurdle this year has been inexperience. While Will Michael and Arman Ganchi have singles experience, Bennett La Londe is a new face at third singles, and the doubles pairings are all new.
“We’re just trying to improve every day. I think we’re close with other teams,” Wing said. “It’s a nice group. They’re fighting for each other and learning how to compete.”