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By: Drew Hendrickson, Director of Tennis, Fitness, and Summer Programs
A rumble in the lion’s den and a battle for Dorchester bragging rights are just two of the punctuation marks that have ignited this fall’s Middle School Tennis League (MSTL) season.
Rumble in the Lion’s Den
In a match-up of perennial powers, the Mario Umana Eagles swooped into the Mary E. Curley’s infamous Lion’s Den, and handled themselves with more poise than most teams who dare step foot into that hostile territory.
“I was really proud of my team,” said the Umana’s first-year coach Brock Hurston. “I was worried one of our girls might pass out on the court, but she hung in there and won the match. It was amazing. What a tough place to play.”
Coach Hurston is referring to an epic doubles match, in which the Umana’s Dayanara Jimenez and Jasmine Le beat the Curley’s Krismanny Guerrero and Chandell Cruz 6-5.
Guerrero and Cruz were down 2-5 at one point in the match but fought back to knot the score at 5-5. Supported by the raucous home crowd, these comeback kids battled their way to the brink of victory. At 5-5, the game went to deuce, so it was match point for both teams. The match in the balance, fans and coaches looked on intently as the deciding point played out. After several balls back and forth, a sharp Jasmine Le backhand was too much to handle and led to a Curley shot into the net. Le and Jimenez won the point and the match, 6-5.
In the other doubles match on the docket, the Curley’s Yazmanny Guerrero and Jayshawn Brooks beat the Umana’s Arturo Sosa and David Martins 6-2. This win propelled the Curley to an overall team victory.
The final score was 11-8, and it looked like the Curley’s undefeated record at home would remain intact. The intensity of the Curley fans, Coach Payne’s iconic presence and one win already on the scoreboard gave everyone the feeling that the Curley would lay waste to yet another victim.
That feeling, you know the one, when your heart sinks a little deeper into your belly and your blood runs a little colder because a sense of doom lurks and grows as every second ticks by. Some call it dread, some call it fear; anyone who has been around the block in the MSTL would tell you that’s just life in the Lion’s Den. Yeah, so that feeling, that dark, cold feeling got even stronger when more fans descended into the Lion’s Den for the second half of this spellbinding double-header. It got even louder, more raucous, and more impossible to bear. That’s right, fans, we’re not done.
In the second match, the Curley’s Dairon Feliz took on the Umana’s Omar Pletiez. Pletiez took an early lead, but Feliz hung tough through the first few games. The crowd screamed their support with every forehand and backhand hit. Pleteiz dealt with Feliz’s penetrating groundstrokes, but also contended with the deafening screams of the crowd.
In the end, the Umana’s Pleteiz pulled out a somewhat miraculous win for the Eagles, 6-3. Perhaps, with that win, he also took down some of the vaunted Lion’s Den mystique.
As Pleteiz grinded out his historic win, the Umana’s Douglass Bonilla cruised to a 6-0 win over the Curley’s Tyrese Poole. Bonilla pumped his fists and fired himself up throughout the match, almost daring the rabid fans to give him their best shot.
For his part, Poole played a strong match. He was up against an aggressive player in Bonilla whose sharp volleys were just a little too much.
So the Umana won the second match 12-3, and thus made MSTL history by scoring the first ever win on the Curley’s home turf.
“Dairon played the match of his life,” said Coach Payne. “He took the loss, but I don’t think he’s ever played so well.”
Always the optimist, MSTL fans can all rest assured that Coach Payne and the Curley Flying Lions will not go quietly into that good night.
Battle for Dorchester Bragging Rights
Perhaps no match on the MSTL schedule is more frequently circled in red pen than this clash between Dorchester-based rivals. Just a couple miles on Columbia Rd. separate these two schools, and there is no love lost between two rivals.
Despite their geographic proximity, these two programs have had far different histories in the MSTL.
The McCormack Panthers have won three Crane Cup championships in their storied history, and they come into this year as the defending Crane Cup champs. They are loaded again for the 2019-2020 campaign and have been the popular pick for #1 in the power rankings.
The Frederick, on the other hand, has often resided in the cellar of the league standings and has never hoisted the coveted Crane Cup. Their coach, however, is a giddy optimist. Burke Paxton, now in his second year at the school, sees a steady momentum building among his team.
“We have a lot of kids who love tennis,” reports Coach Paxton. “I walk into the school and I see tennis rackets in backpacks, and, of course, there’s Patrick, hitting tennis balls off the wall of the school. It’s awesome to see.”
That effervescent optimism was put to the test against the McCormack. Having to travel to Harbor Point, which is right next door to the McCormack, did not make things any easier on the Frederick as this red-letter date was the opening match of the 2019 MSTL season.
In the opening match, the McCormack’s Billy Nguyen and Micah Echols edged out the Frederick’s Jamari Fuquay and Daniel de la Paz, 6-5.
A tough loss for the Pilots, Fuquay and De la Paz played an incredible match that took two of the McCormack’s best 7th graders to the razor-thin edge of defeat. Nguyen and Nichols found the fortitude to hold off the threat and emerged with the victory.
In the 2nd doubles match, India Picket paired with Micah Echols to take down Theresa Ngo and Abisail Lara, 6-2. For Lara and Ngo, this was their first ever team tennis match, and their coach could not have been prouder.
“This is a huge deal for them as players,” said Coach Paxton. “They have been working hard and getting better. And it was awesome to see them play hard and compete. It’s a big turning point for them.”
The McCormack won the match 12-7 and held tightly to their claim as Dorchester’s top team.
McCormack Coach Malcolm Neville felt his team played better as the match went on.
“They were nervous and tight at first,” said Coach Neville. “They overcame that nervousness and played better.” Neville continued, “I would never say that we are definitely going to win the Crane Cup again this year, but we have a good chance,” said the clearly quite confident coach.
This fall season has been full of excellent matches. In addition to the matches described above, here are a couple other noteworthy tilts:
The Umana and the McCormack had two extremely close contests. The McCormack won a match-deciding tie-breaker to squeeze out a 10-9 win in their first match, and later in the season the Umana earned a tight 13-12 win, which was also decided by a tie-breaker.
Match 1 – McCormack 10 Umana 9
1 doubles Hallie Gomez and Andrew Rodriguez (DMC) beat Aaliyah Santiago and Carlos Acosta 6-3
2 doubles Melanie Aponte and Rafael Gamez (U) beat Sarah Tavares and Daniel Justiniano 6-3
Tiebreak: Hallie and Andrew (DMC) def. Melanie and Rafael 10-2
Match 2 – Umana 13 McCormack 12
1 doubles Douglass Bonilla and Oswaldo Rodriguez (U) def. Micah Echols and Billy Nguyen (DMC) 7-5
2 doubles India Picket and Candy Morales (DMC) def. Mariana Paiva and Victoria Ribeiro (U) 7-5
Tiebreak: Douglass def. Micah 7-1
The Frederick beat up on the Curley on two different occasions. The Pilots scored a 16-12 win in the first match and a 13-8 win in the second.
Match 1 – Frederick 16 Curley 12
1 singles – Nicor Lawton (Cur) def. Jayvon Fuquay (F) 6-5
2 singles- Patrick ondzi-wene (F) def. Frank Rojas (Cur) 6-0
1 doubles- Dairon Feliz and Dashawn Patrick (Cur) def. Jamari Fuquay and Daniel de la Paz 6-5
Match 2 – Frederick 13 Curley 8
1 doubles: Jamari Jones and Wilden Figueroa (Frederick) def. Tyrese Poole and Dashawn Patrick (Curley) 8-0
2 doubles: T’Unique Bell and Krismanny Guerrero (Curley) def. Dave Lahai/Geovanny Santos-Mena (F) 8-5
Upcoming Tournament Adjustments
To add even more special sauce to this plot, the formats for this winter’s Rising Stars and Holiday Classic tournaments have been changed.
No longer is the Rising Stars just for 6th graders. Each site will send 3 pairs of one 6th and one 7th grader to compete in this team doubles tournament.
The Holiday Classic will now include a boy’s doubles, a girl’s doubles, and an open doubles flight.