WOBURN — The St. John’s Prep tennis team needed a big day from its singles players in Saturday’s North Division 1 final against Westford Academy, because the Grey Ghosts defeated both Eagles doubles teams in the individual state tournament.
Chris Toner, Dan Cunningham and Niko Limacher were up to the challenge. The Eagles swept the singles matches, and both doubles teams avenged their losses, as fourth-seeded St. John’s downed No. 2 Westford Academy 5-0 at the Woburn Racquet Club to win the North.
The Eagles advance to the Division 1 state semifinals today at Newton South, where they will play the winner of the South sectional final between BC High and Newton North.
“The singles came out and set the tone immediately,” said Prep (15-4) head coach Mark Metropolis, whose Eagles lost to Lexington in last year’s North final. “They (WA) beat both our doubles teams in the individual tournament, so singles knew there was a chance we’d lose both today. So we made sure everyone came out focused. It’s the finals, so you have to bring your A-game.”
Toner defeated WA’s (15-4) Christien Colomb at first singles 6-1, 6-1 in a match that was never in question. The Eagles top singles player dominated in the service game, nailing his first serve consistently, while Colomb struggled in both the serving and return game.
“I serve particularly well, and the courts are fast here, so I just tried to get my first serve in,” noted Toner. “On my returns, I just tried to put the ball in play. He (Colomb) has a pretty good forehand, so I tried to keep him on his backhand and just play smart.”
Cunningham and Limacher are both big, tall players with explosive serves, and both were on the top of their games Saturday. Cunningham defeated Kevin Chen 6-1, 6-2 in a match that saw the former dictate play with smart shots that kept Chen constantly on the move.
When the opportunities arose, Cunningham moved to the net, where his tall frame proved too difficult for Chen, who simply couldn’t get balls past the Eagles’ No. 2 singles player.
Limacher, meanwhile, earned the most decisive victory, winning 6-0, 6-1. He played a very patient game and returned almost everything into play. That forced his opponent, Michael Colomb, to try to beat him with winners.
“They’re (Cunningham and Limacher) both big, and they both have big serves. Niko is more of a serve-and-volley type of player, while Dan is more finesse,” explained Metropolis. “The key was for them to get on a roll and keep grinding.”
All three singles matches finished before either of the doubles, so the Prep knew it would win at the very least by a score of 3-2. However, an impressive first set by Ian Wright and Sean Nork at first doubles and a fantastic rally by second doubles Alec McNiff and Jon Shaffer had St. John’s Prep poised for a sweep.
Wright/Nork defeated Jamison Bigham and Corey Yu 6-2, 6-4, while McNiff and Shaffer dropped the first set 2-6, won the second set 7-5 and prevailed 10-7 in the tiebreak.
“This was the greatest group I’ve ever worked with,” WA head coach Peter Paltsios said of his Grey Ghosts. “And we were outdone this time by St. John’s Prep. They were tough for us.”
Wright, who won the state individuals doubles tournament last year, worked extremely well with Nork, considering the duo had faltered some toward the end of the season. Wright was fantastic close to the net, and Nork hit his fair share of winners, too, as the duo looked extremely confident.
McNiff and Shaffer, meanwhile, found their footing in the second set and eventually bested what had been an undefeated duo for Westford Academy.
“They came out and controlled the net, which was the key for this match,” Metropolis said of Wright and Nork. “(McNiff and Shaffer) started slow and the other team is undefeated at second doubles, but they started to pick up steam and they forced a (tiebreaker). Doubles is a momentum thing.”
The Eagles hope that momentum will take them all the way to a state championship.