by Andrew Garda

Montclair High School tennis standout Leo Kupferman made it through three rounds of the NJSIAA individual singles tournament, but fell just short of advancing to the semifinals with a three-set loss to Noah Lilienthal of Princeton.

The 15th-seeded Kupferman took the first set 6-3 from the No. 2 seed from Princeton seed and had the advantage in the second set. But Lilienthal rallied and overcame the Mountie to take the set 7-5, then won the decider, 6-4.

“He had won the first set, and was serving for the second set,” Kupferman’s coach Andrea Noyes said during a recent phone call. “Leo performed very well. He really did have opportunities to take Lilienthal out of the tournament, in my opinion.”

Lilienthal went on to reach the semifinals, falling to eventual state champion Robert Sinaikowicz of West Windsor-Plainsboro South.

“I went into the match thinking it was a winnable match, because I like to have a positive attitude going into every match,” Kupferman said over the phone on Tuesday. “It helps me going in to compete harder and gives me a little more motivation because he was a top win, so it would be a really good win for me to take him out.”

The long battle didn’t quite turn out the way he’d hoped, but that didn’t mean Kupferman didn’t enjoy the process.

“It was a good match and I was able to compete really hard and he was a good player as well,” Kupferman said. “It was fun.”

Certainly winning and a berth in the semifinals is the goal, but Noyes thinks it wasn’t the worst thing in the world and in the long run, could be a good thing.

“I told him something he didn’t want to hear — he’s going to learn more from that loss than he would have if he had won it,” Noyes said. “People don’t want to hear that, but sometimes you learn more from losing than you do from winning.”

With a little distance, Kupferman said he can see what she is saying.

“It’s something I can think about always after the match,” he said. “It’s hard to think about it right after but learning from your losses is something you have to do.”

Noyes thinks that coming so close, and missing out on that chance to finish off a top-seeded player, will sharpen his competitive streak and killer instinct.

“I think he’s going to take that [loss] and he’s not going to let it happen again,” she said. “When it’s sitting on his racket and he has that opportunity, I know he’s going to finish it off next time.”

Meanwhile, Kupferman is excited to improve heading into his senior year, when he the Mounties figure to have a loaded squad featuring he and twin brothers Andrew and Kevin Wallace.

“The Wallaces really stepped up this year,” Kupferman said. “Kevin and Andrew did such a great job. They don’t play that much during the year but they really turned it on this year, stepping up in the singles positions.”

Noyes is also excited for next year and feels that Kupferman is easily as good as any player in the tournament and that he belongs in the top echelon of New Jersey tennis players.

“He’s as good as those other players and can compete side by side with them. He just needs to take it one more step and have a breakthrough win,” Noyes said. “This was a close one for him. He had a good season and he’s got one more year left to get out of the 16s in that tournament. And I know he can do it.”