They are the big cheese of boys’ high school tennis in these parts, a dynamo of a team that has won 59 straight regular season matches and are the defending Division 3 South champions. Cape Cod Academy is the big bully of boys’ tennis on the Cape and Islands, a vastly superior program that can beat most teams with one hand behind their back.
Case in point, the Seahawks from Cape Cod Academy beat Sturgis in the opening round of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament without their number-one singles star Jon Zelman — and did so by a score of 5-0, with all their players winning in straight sets. And by luck of the draw, this was the team the Vineyarders drew in the Division 3 semifinals on Wednesday.
The Vineyarders had a pretty good season themselves, compiling a 17-3 record overall and a perfect 8-0 record in the Eastern Athletic Conference, winning the league in only their first year of eligibility and reaching the semi-finals of the south sectionals for the second year in a row thanks to wins over Cohasset last Friday and Ashland on Monday, both at home.
But still they were a big underdog heading into Wednesday’s match in Marstons Mills, and coach Ned Fennessy acknowledged most people did not give his team much of a chance. “They [Cape Cod Academy] are the best around. Nobody disputes that,” the coach said. “But we want to play them. We want to play the best.”
It’s hard to draw a David and Goliath-like comparison in boys’ high school tennis because there is not much precedent and even less context. The game of tennis is so reliant on athletic skills you rarely see Hollywood-type upsets, and the more talented team — especially one as strong as Cape Cod Academy — will win about 99.99 per cent of the time.
And so it was in Wednesday’s match between the underdog Vineyarders and the powerful independent college prep school that draws some of the best tennis players from the region. The script was familiar, as the Vineyarders scrapped and hustled for every point, but so was the ending, as the Vineyarders lost 4-1 and were bounced from the state tournament.
But take a closer look, beyond final score, and you realize how much closer the match was — closer than anyone could have expected beforehand. The match actually started Tuesday, but was postponed due to heavy rains and picked back up on Wednesday, which required the Vineyarders to leave and come all the way back on the boat the next day.
On the first day the Vineyarders number one singles player Reid Yennie actually held a 4-3 lead on Cape Cod Academy’s best player, Jon Zelman, and was serving to make it 5-3 when the skies opened and the match was halted. “I have to wonder what might have happened if it didn’t start raining. The way we were playing, I thought the upset was possible, I really did,” coach Fennessy said.
The match was there for the taking, but mother nature wasn’t cooperating, and when the rains came the teams were sent home.
When play resumed the next day Zelman regrouped and was too strong for Yennie, winning three straight games to win the set. He later won the second set to put his team up 1-0 overall. Meanwhile Cape Cod’s number-two singles player Will White beat the Vineyarders freshman Justin Smith by a convincing score of 6-0, 6-0, putting the home team ahead overall by a score of 2-0.
But the Vineyarders did not go quietly, as the number-one doubles team of Win Grimm and Justice Yennie defeated Connor McCann and Tyler DeWaltoff in two hard-fought sets (6-4, 6-4). The Vineyarders then trailed 2-1 overall, and eyes turned to the match between Kent Leonard and Tyler Kugler, who wound up playing the longest and best match of the day.
Kugler won the first set 6-2, but in the second set both players had spectacular rallies and the set score reached 3-3. Leonard held serve and broke Kugler’s to go up 5-3 and served for the set, but Kugler broke right back and held serve to bring the score back to 5-5. The longest game of the match was then played with Leonard serving, and after eight deuces, Kugler prevailed to take a 6-5 lead.
He then served out the match for his win to give Cape Cod Academy the overall match win.
At number-two doubles, Kyle Moran and Grant McCarthy lost their first set 6-2 as the marathon match between Leonard and Kugler was concluding. The Vineyard pair jumped to a 5-4 lead and was serving with a 30-love advantage when the rains came again and halted the match for the second day in a row.
With Cape Cod Academy having already won the overall match, the second doubles match was recorded as incomplete.
Coach Fennessy yesterday could not help but wonder what might have been.
“We had our chances . . . Yennie could have beat Zelman, Leonard was right there with Kugler. I think if it played out we could have won second doubles [with Moran and McCarthy]. But that’s just me dreaming. What I know for a fact is these kids played great all season, they accomplished a lot, and they should be proud,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest endorsement the Vineyarders received came from Cape Cod Academy coach Ralph Herbst. “We’ve played them three times this year, and they have gotten better each time,” Mr. Herbst said. “We beat a very good team in a close match today. [They] are a young team and they’ll be even stronger in the future.”
The girls’ lacrosse team faced an equally formidable opponent in the third round of the state tournament Wednesday, losing 18-7 to Hopkinton, a team considered to be one of the best in the state. The Vineyarders scratched and clawed to early leads of 3-2 and 4-3 in the first half, but Hopkinton went on a 11-1 run and led 14-4 at the half.
Heavy rains were falling before the game even started, and the entire contest was played on a muddy and slippery field.
Coach Betsy Dripps said her team stuck with Hopkinton as long as they could. Freshman Jennie Lindland scored early to tie the game at 1-1, Molly Fischer scored minutes later to give the Vineyarders a 2-1 advantage, Kate Cecilio scored soon after to tie the game at 3-3, and Lindland scored again to give the Vineyarders a 4-3 lead, their last of the game.
“We were right there for a while. But they are so talented, so determined. When we took that 4-3 lead they just ran away with it. Before we knew it, their lead was 10 . . . they are that good,” coach Dripps said.
She also marveled at Hopkinton’s goalie Mal Bannon, who came out of the cage, got involved in the defense and directed players on the field, in addition to playing near flawlessly between the pipes. “She’s the one who made the biggest difference. If they go on to play in the championship — and I think they will — she will be the biggest reason,” the coach said.
Lindland led the Vineyarders with three goals; Cecilio and Fischer each had two and Alayna Hutchinson and Madison Hughes also scored.
Coach Dripps said the highlight of the season will be Monday’s dramatic comeback win against Scituate in the quarter-finals of the tournament, which she said was the most exciting game she has ever coached in her 30-year career. The coach said it was the consummate team win, and a testament to the team’s talent and will.
“It would be hard to single out any one Vineyard player after that game. They all played their hearts out . . . the girls truly represented Vineyard pride as they pulled off the big upset,” she said.
The Vineyarders rallied from deficits of 3-6 and 5-8 in the first half, and later trailed by three goals with less than 10 minutes to play. But the game turned on a 4-0 run by the Vineyarders, with scores by Hayley Pierce on an assist from Fischer, and then three straight goals by Fischer. The game would go to overtime, when the Vineyarders out-scored Scituate 3-1 to seal the win.
In typical fashion, coach Dripps gave credit to every member of her team, from the goalie, to the attackers, to the assistant coaches — even to the parents who traveled with the team. And again after Wednesday’s loss, the coach doled out credit and accolades to just about everyone involved in the program.
“I guess I should thank everyone, because everyone made a big contribution this year. We played as a team all season and we will end the season as a team. And personally I am sad to say goodbye to some of my seniors, and am looking forward to seeing some of these younger players again this year,” she said, adding:
“I know the seniors are looking forward to graduation this weekend, and I hope they know how much they meant to this team over the years.”