On a hot, 85-degree Wednesday afternoon in Locust Valley, the boys’ tennis team capped a memorable season with a 3-2 victory over top-seeded and four-time defending champion Portledge in the PSAA Championship.
The two squads split the regular season match-ups with the visitor claiming victory each time. The Bears overwhelmed a depleted Panther squad on April 30, 4-1, but fell, 2-3, on May 6 when the visitors were at full strength. The Bears knew going into the final that the third singles match and both double matches would be key if they were going to clinch their first PSAA title.
Prior to the match, coach Lars Brownworth’s message to the team was to focus on their mental toughness and recognize that Portledge was not standing between them and the championship, but their own standard of play. He also asked them to rely on their chemistry and brotherhood to overcome whatever nerves they would need to battle before or during the match.
Enoch Guo was a spark plug all season for the Bears and again proved his value by claiming a 6-4, 6-4 win at the crucial third singles slot. Portledge opened the first set by breaking in game one, but Guo immediately broke back to even the set at 1-1. Each player held serve over the next four games as the set remained deadlocked at 3-3. Portledge earned a break in game seven, but Guo again immediately broke back to stay on-serve. He then held serve to go up 5-4, then broke Portledge in the 10th game of the set, earning the final point with the score tied 40-40 to avoid a tiebreaker. Guo held serve to open the second set, then broke Portledge in game two to go up a break. Portledge immediately broke back in game three, then held in game four to even the match at 2-2. Guo then held serve in game five, broke Portledge in game six, and held serve in game seven to go up 5-2 and move within a game of winning the match. Portledge held serve in the next game, then broke Guo in game nine to move back on-serve, but Guo again showed his mettle by breaking Portledge in game 10 to win the match and even the overall match score at 1-1 after the Panthers took second singles.
Jaden Lee and Jovan Haynes were anchors for the team all season, exuding positivity and resilience even when facing a deficit. In the first match of the year, the tandem faced match point, trailing 4-7 in a first-to-eight pro set format, before storming back to win the next five games to claim the match and a 3-2 win for the Bears. In the PSAA semifinals, they dropped their first set, 1-6, before storming back to win the final two sets 6-1, 6-4 in a 4-1 victory for the Brook. That reservoir of experience and belief in each other served them well as they battled a tough Portledge pair. In game one, Lee and Haynes fell behind 0-40 before battling back to hold serve. Portledge and the Brook each held serve in games two and three before the Bears earned the set’s only break in game four to go up 3-1. From there, each team held serve the rest of the way as the Bears took round one, 6-3. In game nine, the Brook fended off a break attempt by Portledge by winning the point with the game knotted at 40-40.
Lee and Haynes opened the second set by breaking Portledge’s best server, but were broken in games two and four with a Portledge hold sandwiched in between. Trailing 1-3, they broke Portledge in game five and followed by holding serve to knot the set at 3-3. Portledge then held serve in game seven and earned their third break of the set in game eight to move within a game of evening the match at one set apiece. With their backs against the wall, Lee and Haynes won the last four games of the set to put the Brook up 2-1 in the team score. They began by breaking Portledge in game nine then holding serve in game 10 to even the match at 5-5. They broke Portledge again in game 11 in a 40-40 game and held serve in game 12 to take set two, 7-5.
After Portledge pulled out a thrilling first singles match over Jake Macaspac, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, the Championship was knotted at 2-2, leaving the second doubles match to decide the outcome. Jonathan Hell and Clement Leung were up to the task. The pair went up a break to build a 4-3 lead, then held serve before breaking Portledge in game nine to win the first set, 6-3. Each team held serve over the first three games of the second set before the Bears broke in game four to go up 3-1. Portledge immediately broke back, then held serve to knot the set at 3-3. The Brook held in game seven, capped by a Hell ace, then broke in game eight to move within a game of the championship. Needing a win to stave off defeat, Portledge built a 40-15 lead in game nine, but Hell and Leung again illustrated the indomitable spirit the team displayed all year by winning the next three points to claim the title.
After the match, Guo was named match MVP while Macaspac, Haynes, and Jackson Petroske were named All-PSAA. The victory earned the boys’ their first PSAA Championship and also marked the first time since 2016-17 that one school claimed both the girls’ and boys’ tennis championships in a single year as our girls also beat Portledge, 3-2, in November. It was also the first title for the boys’ tennis team since a 2015 Section XI League Championship.
In their three years since joining the PSAA in 2018, the Bears have now won regular season or tournament titles in 12 of the 17 varsity sports that compete within the league and have won more total championships over that span than any other school.