Montclair High School, Montclair Kimberley boys tennis fall in Essex County semifinals
The Montclair Kimberley and Montclair boys tennis teams fell a match short of reaching the Essex County Tournament finals last weekend.
The fourth-seeded Mounties dropped a 4-1 decision to top-seeded Millburn in the morning semifinals at Althea Gibson Tennis Courts in Newark.
At the same time, the third-seeded Cougars were shut out, 5-0, by second-seeded Newark Academy in the other semifinals. The Minutemen would go on to win the county tournament title, 3-2, over Millburn.
Both Montclair and Montclair Kimberley knew that it was going to be tough to beat their respective opponents, two of the best squads in New Jersey.
Montclair boys tennis head coach Guy Rabner knew it would be a very difficult challenge against Millburn, since his team lost to the Millers, 4-1, on the road on April 14.
Rabner said that it was the “potential” of the Mounties against the “experience” of the Millers.
"It’s tough to beat experience when you don’t have it," the coach said about Millburn, which is senior-filled this season. "But it’s not just experience … it’s ability, execution, drive and fitness, and we have plenty of that, and potential. This match, however, I believe showed our lack of experience. It can only help us down the road, however."
Montclair junior Tylan Ozkuzey got the lone victory for the Mounties in a three-set win over Millburn's Matias Feoli, 3-6, 6-4, 10-7, in the first singles. It was revenge for Ozkuzey, who lost to Feoli in three sets, 2-6, 6-4, 5-10, in the April 14 regular season contest.
Ozkuzey not only stubbed his toe against Feoli earlier this season, but in the previous couple of seasons.
"I'm extremely happy for him and proud of him," Rabner said. "And it’s not just been this season. He has lost to Matias the past two years six times, but has worked very hard, really improved, and has caught up to him, despite having a much lower UTR (Universal Tennis Rating). It was a great win."
The coach said that it was Ozkuzey's overall game that was the key in the county tournament win. "I don’t think it was just one thing that was working for him," he said. "It’s just his overall game. His strokes are now bigger weapons, he can hang in the rallies and get more balls back than he used to … he has just become a better player."
Montclair Kimberley head coach Val Azzoli said that just playing Newark Academy what could be four times this season will make his young team better this year and in the future.
"We will be playing Newark probably four times this year” – twice in the regular season, and in the county and probably in states, Azzoli said. "Although they are probably the best team in the state, we actually enjoy playing them."
He added that Newark Academy lets it all hang out in every contest against Montclair Kimberley.
"They make us a better team because there isn’t any pressure on them, so they can play as hard as they can without fear of losing," Azzoli said.
Out of the loss to Newark Academy in the ECT semis might have come a new first doubles team in juniors Sam Turovets and Luis Crespo, who took the Newark Academy first doubles to three sets before falling, 6-4, 6-7 (7-1), 6-10.
"I was very impressed with our team, they almost pulled off a big upset," Azzoli said. "They had never played together, and they played with aggression and poise."
The Cougars singles, sophomore Camron Ganchi, sophomore Sean Wang and junior Chris Hernandez, first through third, respectively, lost in straight sets. The same three singles competed in last season’s Essex County Tournament, in which Montclair ousted Montclair Kimberley, 3-2, in the quarterfinals.
The Montclair Kimberley freshman duo of Santos Garner and Alex Crespo also lost in straight sets, in second doubles.
For Montclair, senior Rainen Solomon, in his first season as second singles, and junior Trent Tauber fell in straight sets in second and third singles, respectively. The Mounties first doubles, juniors Teddy Ogden and Max Korenbaum, and second doubles, junior Matthew Vincenti and sophomore Jasper Spoor, also lost in straight sets.