by Andrew Garda
LEONIA — Montclair High School’s boys tennis team faced a lot of obstacles to win the NJSIAA Tournament, North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 title, but high temperatures, powerful winds, a missing school bus and a tough opponent all failed to stop them, as the Mounties beat Bergen Tech 4-1.
It is Montclair’s first Section title since 2014, when the Mounties beat Fair Lawn 4 sets to 1.
For first year head coach Guy Rabner, it was a long time in coming for the team.
“The credit really goes to them,” he said. “They really fought for so many years to get to this point, they’ve always wanted it but come up short so many times, to finally get it for them, especially the seniors, I’m so happy for them.”
The match was supposed to start at 3pm, but at 3:30 the Mounties still weren’t at Overpeck Park. The bus that had been scheduled to bring them to the match hadn’t shown up at Montclair High School until 2:45, and at that point traffic had backed up.
After nearly an hour bus ride, the Mounties finally arrived and warmed up.
Then the wind picked up.
The high gusts of wind played havoc with balls, making them move unpredictably and made returns an adventure for both sides.
Frustration was evident for the Mounties, despite winning early sets for both the second and third singles as well as the second doubles pair.
It was that pair — comprised of freshman Sol Cornejo and senior Charles Becker — which began Montclair rolling with their 6-3, 6-3 sweep of the Bergen Tech second doubles.
Rabner said it set the tone for the rest of the team.
“That was really important, to have won that, because I think it calmed everyone down,” Rabner said. “Once they saw that [second doubles] won, I think the others didn’t feel as much pressure and that really helped us. Especially with all the distractions we had I thought it was really important that happened.”
Meanwhile the Montclair first doubles pairing of junior DJ Finnell and senior Connor Piorkowski rebounded from a first set loss, taking the second set from Bergen Tech and forcing a third set.
Finnell and Piorkowski ultimately dropped that last set, but Rabner said he was proud of the way they battled.
“They played a tight three set match the first time,” Rabner said, referring to an earlier match between the Mounties and Knights. so I expected it to be a close match. They played their hearts out. And it was hard the first couple of sets, especially with the wind.”
The wind was also a factor for first singles Leo Kupferman as he battled with Eyal Davidov. After the Mounties took a close first set, he appeared to have several balls get snatched by the wind, either jumping oddly before it hit his racket, or carrying further than he’d wanted it to.
It was clearly frustrating him, but as Kupferman has done during his entire Mounties career, he turned his emotion into determination, dropping several sharp shots either just out of Davidov’s reach or at an angle where the Bergen Tech single couldn’t return them effectively.
Kupferman would win his match in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.
The last two singles were Andrew and Kevin Wallace, the second and third singles respectively.
The Wallace twins rolled their opponents during their first sets, each winning by a score of 6-1. However, both of them found their second set to be a tougher battle.
Andrew Wallace struggled to separate from Bergen Tech second single Lukas Kim, and the two would split games each rotation. Slowly but surely, however, Andrew ground down Kim, frustrating his opponent with drop shots and hard returns, finally winning the second set and the match.
His brother Kevin had match point twice in his second set against Fela Fieulleteau, allowing the Knight to hang around long enough to steal the second set 7-5.
Like Andrew, though, Kevin shook off his issues and came back strong, wearing Fieulleteau down and beating him 6-2 to take the third set.
With the win, Montclair not only secured their first Section title in five years, but also a berth in Wednesday’s Group 4 semifinals, set to start off at 11am.
“I’m so happy for them. They worked hard all year, they fought through adversity, and some tough losses,” Rabner said, raising his voice to be heard over the celebration of his team. “You can hear how happy they are.”