Repeat Men’s Winners at the Senior Section Championships Thrilled to be Champions Again
By Carl Setterlund
SOUTH HADLEY – With UMass-Amherst mathematics professor Nate Whitaker running the show as their team captain, it made some sense that the hometown Amherst Aces would first qualify and then win the men’s 4.0 title at this year’s Senior Section Championships on a series of tiebreakers and close calls.
The locals from nearby Amherst were one of three champions crowned after three days of riveting tennis hosted at the 12-court facilities of Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley and the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, two of the premier outdoor tennis locations in Western Massachusetts.
Barry Lacroix’s 3.5 team from the Racquet Club of Newburyport (Mass.) also earned its stripes as New England champions, continuing to build on an undefeated season by posting 3-0 victories in all three of its matches.
The 4.5 team captained by Moses Grader out of Bass River Tennis Club in Beverly, Mass., had a tougher go of it, but still came out on top, becoming the first to be named champions after winning its round-robin group on Saturday.
All three have earned the right to play at the 2012 USTA League Senior National Championships, which will be held in Southern California throughout October at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The 3.5 level will compete on the second weekend of the month, from Oct. 12-14, while the 4.5 championships will take place from Oct. 19-21, followed by 4.0 teams from Oct. 26-28 to close things out.
All three squads boast some sort of experience having played previously at Nationals, but it didn’t lessen anyone’s appreciation of winning the sectional title.
As a mathematician, Whitaker went through all the odds and couldn’t help but feel that his Amherst Aces, based out of Bay Road Tennis Club, needed and received every single break possible in order to win, starting all the way back in their Western Mass. league flight. With the same record as two other local teams, the Aces qualified for sectionals based on the second tiebreaker of sets lost.
The good luck continued all the way into Sunday out at Mt. Holyoke.
“We started off (sectionals) winning the first two matches, 3-0,” Whitaker said. “We felt like we had a good team, but we had a gut feeling that the team we played in the third match would be our toughest opponent. Well, we lost, 2-1, to them and we came into (Sunday) thinking we probably didn’t have a chance.”
Amherst ended up winning its own match on Sunday morning, 2-1, over the WB team from Tennis Rhode Island of Warwick. At roughly the same time, the first-place Westport (Conn.) Whalers from New Canaan Racquet Club were upset, 2-1, by the previously winless team from Ellsworth (Maine) Tennis Center. That left Amherst and Westport tied atop their five-team flight, both with 3-1 records, and this time Amherst advanced based on the first tiebreaker of individual wins.
Once in the final, the Amherst Aces quickly fell behind Len Licari’s Cedardale Blue team from Haverhill, Mass., 1-0, after Whitaker and Nate Treloar lost to Greg Herbert and Arnie Wong, 6-1, 6-2, in first doubles.
“That’s the best doubles team I’ve seen in the USTA at 4.0 in a long, long time,” Whitaker said. “They were super.”
Luckily for him, second and third doubles came through. George Lipkowitz and Chris Seibart beat Dean Cleghorn and Thomas Debyle, 6-2, 6-2, at third doubles, and minutes later Thomas Mitchell and Kevin Warwick closed out second doubles, winning eight straight games to clinch the New England title, 7-5, 6-0.
Whitaker, who has been captaining teams for nearly a decade, said a senior 4.0 team of his from four years ago that went to Nationals had been on the opposite end of a similar scenario. That time, it was his team that lost the final match of group play and they watched as Texas went on to win the national title.
“It’s funny, it’s almost exactly the same thing,” Whitaker said. “We were talking about it (Saturday) night that Texas did it to us, so maybe we could do it (here).”
Newburyport finished out its New England championship run strongly with straight set victories in all three individual matches in the sectional final against Rick Turek’s Serving Seniors from the Ludlow (Mass.) Tennis Club.
Turek captained an adult 3.5 team all the way to Nationals just last year, and his senior 3.5 team was not an easy out.
The toughest match came at first singles where Newburyport’s Roy Urdanoff and Dan O’Neil trailed in both sets, but won five consecutive games to close out it out, earning hard-fought a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Ron Andrews and Eric Cestero.
Lacroix and Stephen Cabitt put Newburyport up, 1-0, after a 6-3, 6-4, win over Stephen Gelling and Andrew Mazur in second doubles.
The third doubles pair of Mark Davidson and Bradford Hathaway then clinched the match by beating Turek and John Breen, 6-4, 6-2.
“We’re very deep, so our third team is as good as our first team and that helps us a lot,” Lacroix said. “We kind of mix good tennis players with good athletes.”
The players felt they owed plenty of credit for their victory to their personal cheerleader and good luck charm, Bradford Hathaway’s mother, Yolanda.
“We’re probably the only senior team that brought one of our mothers to cheer us on,” Lacroix said with a smile. “I think it was a special advantage for us.”
Lacroix, Cabitt and co-captain Jack Ringland all went to Nationals as part of an adult 3.0 team back in 2008 and Lacroix says they’re very excited to go back.
The men’s 4.5 level finished up a day earlier than everyone else, with Grader’s Bass River team winning a pair of close 2-1 matches to emerge victorious.
It will be a return trip to Nationals for co-captain Robert Beaton and Daniel Kreiner. Beaton’s 4.5 team from Bass River placed third in the country in 2011, falling to the national champions from Southern California in the semifinal round.
Bass River opened the tournament by dropping the first set in all three matches against Mike Reiner’s team from the East Hartford (Conn.) Tennis Club, but both first and second doubles came back to win in a third set super tiebreaker.
The team then clinched the sectional title by handing the Gary McEldowney’s Rally Point Racquet Club squad out of Greenville, R.I., its first loss of the season.
Grader and his second doubles partner, Ron Parlman, won for the second time, beating Walter Bennett and James Pfeffer in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1. Then, the third doubles pair of Kreiner and Paul Shaw sealed back-to-back titles for Bass River with a three-set win over McEldowney and Daniel Smith, 4-6, 6-2, 1-0.