WILTON — Darien High School sophomore Ethan Zhang saw a Blue Wave of teammates sprinting toward him immediately after winning the final point of his match at fourth singles in the FCIAC championship against rival Staples.
Zhang was enthusiastically swarmed by his Blue Wave teammates clad in blue shirts, as they celebrated a long-awaited victory.
For the first time since the 1989 season, Darien can call itself ‘FCIAC boys tennis champions.’
Receiving two singles and doubles victories, second-seeded Darien captured its first FCIAC tennis title in 30 years, defeating five-time defending conference champion Staples, 4-2, before a large, spirited gathering at Wilton High School. The top-seeded Wreckers had won the FCIAC championship each season since 2014.
A dramatic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Staples senior Jack Tooker at fourth singles was the match clincher for Darien, which led 3-2, prior to Zhang’s victory.
“It means everything to me, because I don’t even know when the last time Darien won the FCIAC title,” Zhang said. “We have been preparing our entire season for this and for all of us, prior years for this moment. It means everything to our team. There was a lot of pressure on me, so I tried to keep calm, no matter what was happening around me.”
Darien coach Hugh Underhill has seen Zhang register a number of significant wins throughout the season.
“Ethan Zhang came up with a huge win for us, as he has been doing all season,” Underhill said. “What a rewarding win for him with everyone watching. He hasn’t lost the entire season.”
The Blue Wave went ahead in the match, 3-2, when Sergei Doroshin, a senior, and freshman Andrew Kelley posted a 7-5, 7-5 win against Adam Greenlee and Luke Brodsky of Staples at No. 3 doubles.
“This feels really great and humbling that we finally won in 30 years,” said Doroshin, who proudly wore his championship medal around his neck. “We came in as a team and won with energy, passion and determination. Our opponents were really good, but we persevered. This year, we knew was our year.”
Added Kelley: “Sergei and I have trained hard all year long, we worked so hard strategizing for this.”
The first match that was completed was the No. 1 doubles matchup between Darien’s Romano DeCaprio and Chris Calderwood. They teamed up to beat the Wreckers’ formidable duo of Jake Greenwald and Bradley Sheppard 6-2, 6-1. Showcasing standout play at the net and solid serving, they were able to dictate a lot of points.
“Staples is a great opponent and we always want to get on them as fast as we can,” said DeCaprio, a junior. “We got the break early and were able to close them out. We tried to control the pace and timing.”
Said Calderwood: “We’ve been great partners, our chemistry is great. Due to our great team around us, we have proven ourselves to be good doubles partners.”
Darien’s second win of the match came from senior Michael Karr, who continued his outstanding season at first singles. Using his booming groundstrokes, Karr was victorious against Staples senior Eric Stein, 6-3, 6-0, at the top spot.
“First set I was a little bit tight, but I was able to get the break when I needed to, I was able to take care of business on my serve,” Karr said. “Getting the first set was huge, it allows you to gain breathing room and gives you momentum in the second set.”
Said Stein: “Darien just brought their best tennis and we brought our best tennis, they just came up ahead in the big points. It’s always great to win, but at the same time they are a very good team, we just have to credit them.”
Staples got a singles win from freshman Tighe Brunetti at third singles, who topped junior Nick Derby, 6-3, 6-1. The Wreckers’ No. 2 doubles squad of Sam Lampert/Jason Katz won their match against Tyler Cramer/Ian Wise, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Wreckers duo got their game in gear after the opening set.
“It was hard especially after we lost the first set very badly,” said Lampert, a junior. “We had to make some adjustments and the team came over to us and got us going. Coach gave us some really good strategy, we put our faith in coach. It wasn’t our greatest tennis, but we listened to our coach and listened to our team and came out with a win.”
Hugh Underhill, Darien’s coach, was received the FCIAC Coach of the Year Award following the match.
“This is especially rewarding for our team to give our school a championship win,” Underhill said. “I felt this team had the potential to do something very special at the beginning of the season, but we didn’t talk about it too much. What they accomplished today was so impressive.”
In a hard-fought match that wasn’t completed, Ryan Patrick of Darien and the Wreckers’ Robbie Daus matched each other strong serve for strong serve and groundstroke for groundstroke at second singles. Patrick won the first set, 6-3, Daus took the second set, 7-6, and Daus was ahead 5-3 in the final set, when Darien clinched the win, courtesy of Zhang.
The Wreckers and Blue Wave will each compete in the state tournament, which begins on Friday. Staples competes in Class LL, while Darien is in Class L.
“We were reslient, Darien is a tough matchup,” Staples coach Kris Hrisovulos said. “We were struggling a bit on every court at the beginning of each match, but our guys kept fighting and fighting, showing the heart of a champion. We’ve had a really good year and we hope to continue it at the state tournament.”