Ed Kensik for Montclair Local
Montclair boys tennis has had the upper hand over neighborhood rival Montclair Kimberley in the last decade.
And it has continued this season.
In the first of two battles between the schools, Montclair defeated MKA, 4-1, on April 27. The second battle between the two was postponed on Monday because of rain that came near the end of the match at the Mountainside courts in Upper Montclair.
Unlike some of the sports competition between the two schools, there really isn’t a rivalry in tennis, especially since it has not been since 2012 that MKA has defeated Montclair.
Montclair boys tennis head coach Guy Rabner said that “in the two years I’ve been coaching the matches have been relatively one-sided, so I think the actual tennis rivalry is bigger with the better teams.”
Montclair Kimberley head coach Val Azzoli agrees that the usual MHS-MKA rivalry does not extend to tennis, particularly since there are very few spectators for tennis. In addition, only two MKA tennis players are from Montclair, but they have spent almost their entire schooling at MKA.
Montclair junior Leon Wang, a co-captain, said that he knows a few of the MKA players.
“Recently it has been quite one-sided in our favor, so I would say it’s more of a friendly rivalry,” Wang said. “Given our proximity, however, there is a natural rivalry for the town bragging rights.”
While Montclair had the upper hand again this season, MKA has a mainly inexperienced group. Azzoli said MKA missed out on a good group in 2020. “I lost a lot of seniors from last season, and it would have been a good team,” the coach said.
Montclair had three starters graduate from what would have been the 2020 team. The three were a big part of the 2019 squad that won the North 1 Group 4 state title.
Wang added that he worked with the other co-captain, junior Sol Cornejo, to have captain practices in the off-season.
“We built up our team chemistry and were able to have a smooth transition into this season,” said Wang, who is a doubles player. “We are a young team with a lot of potential, and we will only get better and better as the season goes along.”
Rabner believes that his young squad will have another shot at a state sectional title. “The team is essentially brand new and very young, so whatever experience we get this year will only help us down the road,” he said.
Montclair Kimberley and Montclair are in the toughest division in the Super Essex Conference American Division, with county and state powerhouses Newark Academy, Millburn and Livingston.
Rabner admitted that his team is battling for second place in the division. “Newark Academy, talentwise, is a whole level above us,” he said. “They’re number one in the state for a reason.”
Montclair Kimberley’s Azzoli likes to be facing the best teams in the county as well as some of the best teams in the state.
“We always seem to hold our own,” Azzoli said of the SEC American Division. “I like being in this division with high-caliber teams instead of dominating another division.”
The tough competition helps them in the Prep B state tournament. “It’s always been the Prep tournament, especially since we are on equal footing,” the coach said about the team’s goals this season.
Before the 2020 season was canceled, MKA won six of the last 10 Prep B titles.
For the Mounties, the most notable example of their youth is that their first singles is a freshman, Tylan Ozkuzey. “Tylan is a very relaxed, easygoing kid,” Rabner said. “What I love most about him is his potential as only a freshman and his clear love for tennis.”
The first singles for MKA is senior Bennett La Londe, who has really moved up during his four years for the Cougars.
“I really like his serve and his intensity,” Azzoli said. “He has really worked his way up to the first singles. He started as a freshman in second doubles.”
In Montclair’s win over MKA in April, La Londe was the lone Cougar to pull off a victory. The senior defeated Ozkuzey, 7-6 (11-9), 6-1. In the second singles Montclair’s Cornejo defeated MKA junior Dhruv Jetley, 6-1, 6-0. In the other singles, Montclair freshman Miles Lee defeated MKA senior Rohan Moniz, 6-1, 6-0.
The Mounties swept the doubles matches. Montclair juniors Jaden Ruderman and Nolan Ogden took care of MKA seniors Arjun Sharma and Nihaar Gopaiji, 6-3, 7-6 (7-0) at first doubles. In second doubles, Montclair juniors Liam Rougebec and Elijah Ruderman defeated MKA sophomore Aidan Szilagyi and freshman Chris Hernandez, 6-1, 6-3.
While MKA has opened up at 0-3, it has faced three of the top teams in the county, including Newark Academy and Millburn.