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By: Drew Hendrickson, Director of Tennis, Fitness, and Summer Programs
Once more into the breach, dear friends. Coaches, players, family and fans are readying themselves for the Middle School Tennis League’s annual grand finale. From all corners of Boston, we have teams and players with their sights focused on the Staniar Open and the Crane Cup respectively. Such is the madness of competition that takes over the MSTL every May. With a star-studded collection of players, the excitement this spring is rising to a fever pitch.
Among those individuals striking fear into the hearts of their rivals are Victor Batista, Emmanuel George and Hallie Gomez from the McCormack; Katherine Arauz, Alex Castaneda and Dave Ebanks from the Curley; Diego Acuna, Perla Ortiz, and Luis Ortiz from the Umana; and Renece Vernon, Damian Palomin and Jayvon Fuquay from the Frederick. These star players will lead their teams into the Middle School Tennis League’s post-season, and fans throughout the city are waiting with baited-breath for this year’s fracas.
As any seasoned observer knows, however, a few good players do not a championship team make. It’ll be depth up and down the line-ups that determine who will bring home the sought-after hardware in this 13th year of Crane Cup revelry.
The clear favorite at this point has to be the Mary E. Curley Flying Lions.
Not only are the Curley Flying Lions the back-to-back Crane Cup champs, they also boast an undefeated regular season record. They went 4-0 in the fall and posted a 6-0 record in the spring. 10-0 in the regular season is a mark that has not been equaled anywhere in the annals of the MSTL.
This campaign has been one of Coach Payne Schanski’s finest. Posting a 10-0 record coming off back-to-back Crane Cups shows that Schanski is not letting his foot off the gas pedal. A shoe-in for the MSTL Hall of Fame, Schanski holds almost every record in the book, but it’s not enough. Would a three-peat at the Crane slake his thirst for championships?
The Curley did have some close calls this spring. They eked out a 10-7 win over the Frederick in the Lion’s Den, their home court. In that match, Curley 8th grader Amber Solo defeated Frederick 8th grader Patrick Freire 4-1 in a tiebreaking pro-set. Solo’s performance in that decisive set shows the depth of the Curley team. She may be a player to watch at the Crane.
Another player to watch from the Curley is 6th grader Janaya St. Germaine. She represented the Curley during their valiant effort at the Rising Stars in December and scored an impressive win against the McCormack this spring. She’s a regular at Girls Got Game and has showed toughness and poise under pressure throughout the year. She could rise to the top of the field at the Staniar Open.
Next in the pecking order are the Mario Umana Academy Eagles.
Once again, Coach Mike Dolph has his team sitting on the precipice of history, as the Umana Academy Eagles won the Rising Stars and the Holiday Classic in December. An unprecedented MSTL Grand Slam is thus in play as we head into the Staniar and Crane. Last year’s tournament downfalls are still fresh in the Umana’s collective memory, however. Excruciating thoughts of what might have been in 2018 have lingered all year, but now a new crop of upstarts may be poised to vanquish the painful past.
Diego Acuna, Luis Ortiz, Perla Ortiz, Jose Guitierrez, Omar Pleitez, Anthony Gamez and Brandy Sanchez are just a few of the names that may fill out the Umana’s Crane Cup roster. This crew put up some impressive results throughout the regular season. Jose Gutierrez was part of a winning effort over the Frederick, and Omar Pleitez, Anthony Gamez and Brandy Sanchez were all part of a big win over the DMC.
With scores of capable kids and just 6 matches, not all the Umana players got in the team tennis mix, but you can be sure Coach Dolph will have more than enough players ready to make history this May.
Wins at the tournaments would secure Coach Dolph’s place in MSTL lore and may even quiet the pundits and Twitter trolls that continually rant on about how he just can’t seem to win the big ones.
Third in the hierarchy are the John W. McCormack Panthers. This crew took a few lumps this regular season, but many MSTL insiders are picking the Panthers as the Cinderella choice in this year’s tournament.
Last year, the DMC pulled off a surprise win at the Staniar Open. Hallie Gomez, Victor Batista, and a host of others took that tournament by storm, and that same group is ready to seize the day at the Crane.
Despite their disappointing regular season record, the DMC had some impressive results that clearly showed their potential. Against the Umana, 7th grader Victor Batista scored an eyebrow-raising win over the Umana’s Diego Acuna, 6-4. At second singles, Isaiah George put up a strong fight against the Umana’s Omar Pleitez, losing 6-3. The Panthers took the 10-7 loss as a team, but this result suggests that this DMC squad is a force to be reckoned with.
If that weren’t enough, their epic tussle with the Curley had fans and media alike speculating about what these Panthers are capable of. Despite being another check in the L column for Coach Matt Johnstone and his team, some strong individual performances were on display. Hallie Gomez and Sarah Cardona scored an impressive 8-3 win over the Curley’s Dairon Feliz and Tyrese Poole. In the singles slots, Curley’s Katherine Arauz took down DMC’s Emmanuel George 8-4 and Curley’s Alex Castaneda defeated Isaiah George 8-7. This was the match of the year in the MSTL regular season and may be a preview of what we can expect at the tournaments.
Fourth in the rankings are the Lilla G. Frederick Pilots.
The Lilla G. Frederick Pilots could not seem to reach peak altitude this spring, but under Coach Burke Paxton’s leadership, they may be poised to soar to new heights.
One of the high points of the Pilots’ season was an 18-4 drubbing of the DMC Panthers. This match was played on the Frederick’s home floor, one of two matches they hosted this season. And on this day, the Pilots did not disappoint! Dolores Ulysse and Jamari Jones from the Frederick defeated Aniyah Givens and Emily Barros for the McCormack, 6-0. Then the Pilots’ Jamari Fuquay and Jonathon Guaman beat Jomar Baez and Tyquan White from DMC, 6-1. Damian Palomin and Renece Vernon also got a win for the Frederick. This blowout built a lot of momentum at the site, and has Frederick fans optimistic about this year’s Staniar and Crane.
Once again, fans, no shortage of story lines and intrigue. Now, we can just sit back, relax, and enjoy it!