Greenwich’s 6-1 victory over FCIAC boys tennis foe Brien McMahon on Monday was the first of what should be, numerous victories for the Cardinals this spring.
Though the roster is significantly different from last season, the Cardinals have the type of depth and talent in both singles and doubles play to contend for the FCIAC Tournament title and make its mark in the CIAC Class LL Tournament.
Greenwich last won the FCIAC championship in 2013 and last season it advanced to the quarterfinal-round of the Class LL Tournament, where it lost to eventual champion Staples. The Cardinals swept Newtown, 7-0, in the opening round of the state tournament.
“Obviously it’s a pretty new team, we lost a bunch of guys, losing our captain last year Matt Luzzi (to graduation) was a tough hit,” Greenwich junior co-captain Dylan Atkinson said. “But now we’ve got a bunch of new guys coming in, there’s a lot of freshmen on the team. There’s a lot of depth, you can put anyone throughout the lineup anywhere. Anyone can play any position.”
Atkinson is slated to play at the No. 1 singles spot for the Cardinals this season. Last year saw him excel at the second singles, winning the majority of his matches against tough competitors. Senior Lucas Piccininno, who will most likely compete in doubles competition is also a co-captain.
“Me and Lucas had to change the environment, helping out the new guys and letting them know what it’s like to be on the team,” Atkinson said of his role as captain. “First match, it’s great to get the win. A bunch of the freshman got to play and we had a good start to the season.”
Graduation claimed six seniors from last season’s successful squad, one of whom was Matthew Luzzi, who provided strong play and leadership at first singles. Since the 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it took a little while for the players on last year’s team to get to know each other since almost everyone on the squad was beginning their first varsity season. This year a pretty large group of players are returning from the Cards’ 2021 team.
“The chemistry is a lot stronger this year, because last year there was only one returning varsity player,” Piccininno said. “This year the chemistry is stronger and that’s definitely helped out.”
The Cardinals’ co-captain is highly impressed with the squad’s skill set.
“I think this is a very solid team,” Piccininno said. “Overall, everyone is a good player and has a good shot of making the starting lineup. That’s one of the good things about this year is the consistency – everyone is good, everyone is solid and I’m really happy for the season.”
Said Greenwich coach Ray Marschall: “We’ve got a few guys coming back and we’ve got a bunch of new players. We have four freshmen, two new sophomores, a junior and we have all the seniors. There’s a really good mix of experience and there’s some guys who are new.”
In Monday’s match against McMahon, senior Yuta Kawamura got the start at first singles for Greenwich and posted a 6-4, 6-1 win. At second singles, sophomore Harrison Wolfe cruised to a 6-0, 6-1 victory for Greenwich.
Brien McMahon’s win came at third singles, where Greenwich junior Zach Toback was edged, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (13-11) in a hard-fought match. Freshman Manuel Galli Specos made a successful debut for the Cardinals in singles play, winning his match against McMahon.
Doubles play saw the Cardinals’ No. 1 team of juniors Nick O’Brien and Cai Jain post a 6-0, 6-2 victory.
The duo produced consistent results at second doubles a year ago and are primed to perform well at the top spot this spring.
“I think this match was about getting in the mindset, getting into the playing spirit and just going out there,” O’Brien said.
“We played two doubles last year and we’ve already played all of the teams here, so we already know a lot of the players we might be playing,” Jain noted. “We know how to play, we know how to get out there and we have a good advantage.”
Both players like the team’s dynamic.
“Considering where we were last year, we have a lot more returning players, which is good,” O’Brien said. “We are more united in a way. Doubles-wise, I’m confident with how we’ll play this year. We had a few 4-3 losses, which hopefully, we can turn around this year.”
“Knowing half the people here it brings the team closer,” Cain said. “Because last year we had a clean slate, there was only one returning player.”
Sophomores Tuta Takahashi and Tristan Sowter won in straight sets at second doubles, 6-1, 6-0, while 6-foot-7 junior Elliot Staple and senior Francisco Fontana were 6-2, 6-0 winners at third doubles for Greenwich against McMahon.
Freshman Rohan Mittal, freshman Ishan Ambastha and Piccininno are among the some of the players that will compete in doubles play for the Cards.
“We are starting to get an understanding of when to come to net when to get your first serve in when to get your second serve in,” Marschall said of the squad’s doubles teams.
Greenwich visits Fairfield Ludlowe today, then is on the road to take on rival Staples on Thursday.
“Last year we lost to Staples in the quarters of states and we have a bunch of good competition this year in the FCIAC and we just want to see what we can do and hopefully, we can win all the matches that we play and we’ll see how it goes as the season progresses,” said Atkinson, who is embracing his role as captain.
“I’m super excited, I like to get the team pumped up and bring the energy,” he said. “I like to get the team energized and get the team excited to play matches.”
Said Piccininno: “My main role is being a captain and trying to get chemistry and morale high. That’s my main goal this year. We want to have fun, get to know each other and maintain a strong mental game, which is very important.”