Monument Mountain boys tennis holds off Greylock for W. Mass. D-III title
LEE -- The situation was all too familiar for the Monument Mountain boys tennis team.
Friday's Western Mass. Division III final against Mount Greylock was tied, and the No. 1 singles match would decide the match.
The Spartans were on the losing end of two one-point losses to Greylock in the regular season. But this time, Monument's No. 1 singles player Kevin Li battled with Greylock's Nyein Soe, having just enough in the tank to pull off a 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 victory, earning the team championship. The Spartans will play Whitinsville Christian, the Central Mass. champion, at 4:15 p.m. Monday at St. John's High School in Shrewsbury.
"Even though I wasn't playing my best -- I didn't really find any opening to attack -- I just tried to hang in there, hit the shots back and hope for the best," Li said.
After losing the second set, Li's powerful serve helped him take a 5-2 lead in the third set. He ended the seventh game with a return ace, ace and another return ace for the winner.
Then with all eyes on their game and the match on the line, Li said the pressure started to get to him.
"In the second set, we stayed close for a good eight games until I started to fall apart mentally," he said. "That kind of carried over to the third set where I tried to pick myself up, and especially with the pressure, I've been through this before, so I really wanted to not make the same mistake."
Soe rallied to reel off three straight wins in a row, tying the match at 5-5.
Unforced errors hurt Li, as Soe won four straight points in the 10th game, capped by a backhand that went long for Li.
Li said a hand injury early in the year forced him to go to a one-handed backhand, which he was struggling with during the match.
Needing to regroup, teammate Cam Powell tried to keep Li's head in the game.
"I was telling him to calm down," he said. "We've been working toward this since day one of the season. We both knew what he needed to do to get it done."
Powell's words of encouragement may have helped, but Soe's unforced errors contributed to the loss as well.
Li took a 6-5 lead when Soe's return shot hit into the net. In the final game, a double fault from Soe gave Li the advantage, allowing him to take the next point for the match.
Li's title-clinching match was set up by the strong overall singles play of the Spartans. Monument's Nos. 2 and 3 singles players won in straight sets, as Satchel Fisher beat Will Nolan 6-2, 6-3, and Cam Powell beat Alex Cheung 6-4, 6-2.
Greylock swept the doubles play, however, as the No. 1 doubles team of Jake Foehl and Gray Kaegi earned the Mounties' first point of the day, winning 6-1, 6-2 over Kevin Costello and Alec Goffin. At. No. 2 doubles, Matt and Aaron Kleiner's 7-6, 6-3 win over Isaac Gotterer and Andrew Rada tied the score at 2.
"I didn't think it was going to be this close, but Monument definitely came out ready to play," Greylock coach Stephen Bryant said. "Nyein almost pulled it out for us, but he played good tennis. He definitely fought his hardest to get back into the game. ... But Kevin stood strong."
Bryant added that, as a coach, it's hard to keep his team focused after beating Monument twice during the regular season.
Monument coach Marshall Fisher, meanwhile, said it's great to get over the hump and beat Greylock.
"It's extremely satisfying to finally beat [Greylock], he said. "We've been on the other end of this several times, so it's nice to finally beat Greylock. I'm so happy for Kevin."
Fisher added that the Western Mass. title is validation for the talent he knew his team had all along.
"We didn't feel at all that we were the underdog," he said. "This whole season we felt we were at least as good as them. Our whole goal was an undefeated season and a championship. ... But we never felt like we were an inferior team."
Singles: 1. Kevin Li (MM) def. Nyein Soe 6-3, 4-6, 7-5; 2. Satchel Fisher (MM) def. Will Nolan 6-2, 6-3; 3. Cam Powell (MM) def. Alex Cheung 6-4, 6-2. Doubles: Jake Foehl/Gray Kaegi (MG) def. Kevin Costello/Alec Goffin 6-1, 6-2; 2. Matt Kleiner/Aaron Kleiner (MG) def. Isaac Gotterer/Andrew Rada 7-6, 6-3.