As the lone returning player from the Greenwich boys tennis team’s successful 2019 team, senior Matthew Luzzi knows what his role entails this season.
“I am a senior captain and I know I definitely have to step up this year,” Luzzi said. “I’m not very talkative, honestly. So this year I’ve had to be more decisive with all the things I say. I want to make sure the guys are all at least playing a few matches this season.”
Greenwich was the runner-up in the team standings at the CIAC Class LL Boys Tennis Championships in 2019 and advanced to the semifinal-round of the FCIAC Tournament. The 2019 squad included several standout graduating seniors and the team’s 2020 team did not play one match due to the COVID-19 pandemic that sidelined everyone. Justin Speaker, Matthew Tamis, Josh Frumin, James Papas and Stefan Brovig were among some of the Cardinals’ 2020 players, who did not experience a spring season a year ago.
So Greenwich coach Ray Marschall is guiding a team with only one player with varsity experience, yet it doesn’t mean his team is inexperienced in terms of playing the sport.
“I was blessed when I came on here to coach two years ago, there were 14 returning players,” Marschall said. “Last year, a number of players graduated. But the guys have a level of maturity on the court that’s impressive.”
Said Luzzi: “We’ve got a very unique set of players. It seems like we have a lot great freshmen and sophomores, so we have a lot of depth this year, like the past seasons. I’m anticipating a pretty solid season.”
The Cardinals’ No. 1 singles player, Luzzi posted a straight set win in his match against Fairfield Ludlowe’s Nolan Oblewicz on Monday. Greenwich registered a 7-0 home victory over Ludlowe to raise its record to 2-0, heading into Tuesday’s early season matchup against rival Staples.
Greenwich and Staples have often met in the championship match of the FCIAC Tournament and have each claimed the conference title on numerous occasions. The Cards have 16 FCIAC titles to their collection, while the Wreckers have captured the championship 11 times. The 2013 season marked the last time Greenwich won the FCIAC title. Since then, Staples has topped Greenwich in the FCIAC title match in 2015, 2016 and 2018.
On the state tournament scene, Staples was the Class LL team winner in 2019, while Greenwich placed second. The Wreckers also won the Class LL team title in 2018 and 2017, with Greenwich finishing second both those seasons. In 2016, the Cardinals and Wreckers shared the Class LL championship. The 2013 and 2012 seasons saw Greenwich edge Staples for the state championship, so the squads share a storied postseason history.
“That is definitely going to be a battle,” Luzzi said of Tuesday’s matchup against Staples. ” I’m surprised that we’re going to play them the third match of the season. We have a pretty solid team that we played today (Ludlowe) in preparation for Staples.”
In his first season with the Cardinals, sophomore Dylan Atkinson earned the No. 2 singles player role in the lineup.
“It feels a little stressful at first, but luckily, I have a bunch of friends on the team,” Atkinson said of his position in the lineup. “They are also in their first year on the team. I really enjoy being in a team atmosphere, because tennis can be an individual sport.”
Showing impressive groundstrokes, Atkinson defeated Ludlowe’s Andrew Kutsch, 6-2, 6-0 on Monday.
“The first set was a little slow,” he said. “It was very windy and cold, my hands were a little numb. But Once I got into it, the second set was smooth sailing.”
Like his teammates, Atkinson is looking forward to testing his skills against his Staples foe on Tuesday.
“I’m super pumped, I think we have a good shot, I know they are going to put up a good fight,” Atkinson said. “It’s going to be a good match.”
Marschall knows the Cardinals possess consistent players at the top of their singles lineup.
“Both very strong players,” Marschall said. “Matt has three years of varsity experience. “They’re both physically and mentally strong and from what I’ve seen, they both know how to change tactics in the middle of a match.”
At third singles on Monday, junior Yuta Kawamura was victorious against Tim McCormick, 6-3, 6-4.
“This is my first year on varsity and being a singles player on this team is a lot of pressure, but it’s fun,” Kawamura said. “Today, my serve was great and my forehand was strong, which helped me during the match.”
Said Marschall: “Yuta told me he tried some different things today and he played very well,” Marschall said.
In the No. 4 singles match, Cardinals freshman Matthew Hunt notched a 6-3, 7-5 triumph over Pearson Biggs of Ludlowe.
“The last point, he hit a deep cross court shot, another cross court shot, then came to net and hit a drop shot – he knows how to play,” Marschall said of Hunt.
In doubles action, sophomores Cai Jain and Nick O’Brien combined to win their match against the Falcons’ Tobey Sappern/Tyler Katz, 6-2, 6-2, at No. 1.
“They communicate well and they both have a fair amount of tennis experience and comfort on the court,” Marschall said of the Cards’ No. 1 doubles team.
Senior Lucas Piccininno and junior Connor Sobieri won in straight sets at second doubles for Greenwich, 7-5, 6-2, while freshmen Harrison Wolfe and Bruce Lunder showed their potential at third doubles for the Cards, winning their match, 6-3, 6-3.
Greenwich hosts Staples at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
“This huge match we have tomorrow will kind of determine how we do the rest of the season,” Luzzi said. “If we are able to get past Staples I think surely we can get past everyone else.”
The FCIAC also includes formidable teams such as Darien, which won the conference title in 2019, New Canaan, Wilton and Ridgefield.
Greenwich’s varsity roster includes Sebastian Yamasato, Christian Fikre, Colin Speaker, Seth Bier, Francisco Fontana, Isaiah Sohn and Zach Toback.
“We want to go far into the postseason, which means you have to be on your ‘A’ game, because it’s one and done,” Marschall said. “Hopefully, our guys can have a chance to feel the postseason pressure that our school teams thrive on.”