by Andrew Garda

BRANCH BROOK PARK, NEWARK — The Montclair Kimberley Academy girls tennis team made the semifinals, while the Montclair High School squad fell in the quarterfinals, but the teams had one thing in common — both ran into the buzzsaw that is the Millburn Millers.

The No. 1 team in the state took out both Montclair teams during the Essex County Tournament before defeating Newark Academy in the finals on Saturday, Sept. 22 and winning their sixth straight ECT tournament.

While neither coach is thrilled to have lost, they both see an upside to facing a tough matchup like Millburn in the tournament.

“It doesn’t get harder than Millburn,” MHS coach Dawn DeMayo said after the team was swept by Millburn in the quarters. “Like I tell these kids, we play one of the toughest schedules in the state, with Millburn, MKA, Newark Academy, Livingston, Westfield, Oak Knoll, and it just makes you that much stronger for the states.”

Wing agrees, pointing out that having to play Millburn more than once — MKA faced them earlier in the season — gives them a measuring stick on how they are doing so far.

“You just need to compare [between tough matches],” Wing said after his team had beaten West Essex in the quarterfinals. “Did you get better the next time out and compete? It’s just about getting better  and playing through the process, going through it, getting ready for matches and playing the best you can every day.”

MKA had to get through Mount St. Dominic and West Essex before they made the semis, though. They swept No. 13 MSD 5-0, before beating the Five-seeded Knights, 4-1.

“I thought we played well,” Wing said after Thursday’s early rounds. “We were very focused against Mount St. Dominic, and then West Essex was a tough team. I thought we played well.”

Cougars senior Mia Bohi-Green sends a serve towards her opposite number during MKA's quarterfinal ECT win over West Essex on Thursday, Sept. 20.
Cougars senior Mia Bohi-Green sends a serve towards her opposite number during MKA's quarterfinal ECT win over West Essex on Thursday, Sept. 20.

The Cougars were led in both cases by strong play by their singles, with first single Mia Bohi-Green winning in both matches, including an impressive performance against West Essex’s Sadye Boshak, beating the Knight 6-3, 6-1. Additionally, both second single Emily Talkow also and third single Micheala O’Hare performed well, taking their matches during the first round and quarterfinals.

But Millburn is a juggernaut, and Saturday’s matches proved to be the Cougars undoing. Despite fierce efforts from all three singles and both doubles pairs — including the second double team of Sabrina Noble and Mira Rajani, which took their Millburn opponents to an extra game in their second set, falling 7-5 — the Millers proved just too much.

Both Bohi-Green and Montclair’s Maddie Schanen had the dubious honor of taking on Millburn’s first single, Paulina Feoli. The hard-serving sophomore has a tremendous volley and a devastating return, making it tough for any opponent, but both Bohi-Green and Schanen fought hard.

DeMayo said that tenacity is one of the many reasons Schanen is first singles for the Mounties.

“Maddie, there’s something special about her. She’ll come off the court and she’s already ready for the next match,” DeMayo said. “She just bounces right back, that points over, it’s a new day, it’s a new point, I’m ready. You don’t see that often in tennis players, and it’s great that she has that as a sophomore.”

DeMayo had the extra challenge of shuffling her lineup between the game against Caldwell — a tight 3-2 win — and the loss to Millburn.  Second single Sam Nochimson went home sick, which meant Lily McDonald had to move to second singles in her place and Jordan White was moved from first doubles to third singles.

“She stepped up and played very well,” DeMayo said of White. “She hasn’t played singles at the varsity level. And to ask her to step up and play singles against the number one team in the state, she played very well. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Now that the ECT is done, both coaches are looking to finish the regular season strong and put themselves in a position to make a run during the state tournament.

“We got off to a tough start, starting off with Millburn and Newark Academy — two of the best teams in the county — it’s always hard,” Wing said.

“We may not have the best record, but when it comes to the states we’ve been battle tested,” DeMayo said. “Some coaches don’t see it that way. It’s tough to not have that great of a record, but it makes you that much stronger in the end when it really matters.”