Division 3 tennis: Belchertown eyes sweep of sectional championships

  • Trent Zulkiewicz and the Belchertown boys tennis team will face Mount Greylock in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 final, Friday at Lee High School. Gazette FILE PHOTO

  • Jon Vinagre and the Belchertown boys tennis team will face Mount Greylock in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 final, Friday at Lee High School. Gazette FILE PHOTO

  • Ryan Kearney and the Belchertown boys tennis team will face Mount Greylock in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 final, Friday at Lee High School. Gazette file photo

  • Meghan Bernard and the Belchertown girls tennis team will face South Hadley in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 final, Friday at Western New England University GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 6/9/2016 10:17:03 PM

BELCHERTOWN — The Belchertown boys and girls tennis teams will each attempt to win a Western Massachusetts Division 3 championship on Friday.

While each team is the No. 1 seed in its respective tournament, each went about a different path to the finals.

For boys coach Zach Siano, recruiting for his program has been a battle for the past five years.

“From the get-go, when I had taken over the team, I think they had graduated five of their seven starters, so I had to just recruit hard and heavy and that’s kind of been the theme ever since then,” Siano said.

Many of his players are multi-sport athletes who started playing tennis to stay active in their offseasons. And there’s a common theme among how several of his players decided on tennis.

“Siano was my soccer coach, and he was like, ‘Oh, just come play tennis.’ So I said, ‘OK, might as well,’” said senior captain Ryan Kearney, who handles second singles for the Orioles. “I ended up loving it.”

Kearney, Jon Vinagre, Alec Morgado, Noah Pare and Cyrus Raines — five of the team’s seven starting players — all knew Siano from his role as a soccer coach when they first came out for tennis.

“A lot of soccer players play tennis, that’s the theme of the school here,” Siano said. “It’s a good thing to have. The best athletes in the school here play soccer. It’s a nice problem to have here, with them coming out for tennis.”

What do these athletes like about tennis, specifically?

“It’s just fun,” said Dennis Lelic, who also swims.

Lelic’s first doubles teammate, Morgado, added that even though it’s not their first sport, “We’re somehow good at it.”

Lelic and Morgado earned a key point in Tuesday’s 3-2 semifinal victory against No. 4 Monument Mountain.

“Alec and Dennis, I stuck them together at doubles last year and they ended up being one of the best teams in western Mass.,” said Siano. “Noah Pare and Cyrus Raines at second doubles, same thing, just a second-year player and a first-year player, but if they learn that system and they do it right, they’re athletic enough. It’s mainly a system where their athleticism trumps tennis players.”

Belchertown girls coach Jackie Kowal has had a different recruiting experience. Most girls in her lineup — six out of seven, she estimated — were familiar with tennis before they got to high school.

Kowal has been watching senior captain Angela Grabazs play “since she was a little girl,” she said. “I work for the rec department doing their summer tennis program, so I’ve had her coming through since she was probably this high.”

Junior Meghan Bernard, who has dominated in first singles play for the Orioles for the past two seasons, estimated that she’s been playing tennis competitively since she was “about 8 years old.”

Tennis runs in the family, singles player Jordyn Paul said.

“They pushed me into it at first, and obviously I was a little kid, I didn’t really want to go play tennis, but now it’s something I just do all the time,” Paul said. “I met a lot of friends playing tennis. It’s the only sport I really like to do.”

Though the teams have come by their players differently, both share a common goal on Friday: victory in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 championship.

The Orioles (21-1) face off against No. 3 South Hadley (14-7) in the girls final at 3:30 p.m. at Western New England University.

In the boys final, the Orioles (15-6) will play No. 2 Mount Greylock (12-1) at 4 p.m. at Lee High School.

The Belchertown girls fell 3-2 to Monument Mountain in the semifinals last year, so beating them 3-2 on Monday to reach the final “felt really good,” said Emily Hamparian.

“At the end, it came down to Jordyn, and we were all watching and cheering for her,” said Brook O’Neill, Hamparian’s second doubles teammate. “It was so much fun to see that victory.”

Belchertown beat South Hadley 5-0 in the regular season, but according to Kowal, “It’s a different kind of a match when you come to the postseason.”

Belchertown’s lone loss was to Lee, but according to Grabazs, having lost in the regular season can be an advantage in the postseason.

“I think getting into a situation where you’re down and you feel like you can’t come back is disheartening but you also learn how to rally from that and how to bounce back,” said Grabazs. “This year, coming into the postseason, we’re just really ready not to have that feeling, to fight on the court until the end.”

Belchertown was 20-0 last year when it lost to Monument in the semifinals.

“Last year when we were undefeated going into playoffs, we took the loss hard,” said Maddie Hamparian, Grabazs’ first doubles partner. “I think we’re going to be stronger for that on Friday, knowing that it’s not our first time experiencing that feeling, and either way we know how to cope with it.”

The Belchertown boys lost to Mount Greylock, 4-1, in the finals last season.

“We definitely have to play our best match of the season, to be sure,” Siano said. “There’s five points out there. I realistically think there’s five winnable points out there.”

“We want to win the finals this year,” said Kearney. “Being there last year was great, but this year we’re hungry to win it.”

Morgado was ready for rematch.

“We want another round,” he said.

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