The Clipper Tripper-Uppers
Hanover Blanks PHS, Takes Title
Hanover High freshman Kotaro Horiuchi, left, grins back at doubles partner Sandy Yu after their victory during yesterday’s NHIAA Division II boys tennis championship at Bedford High School. The Marauders routed Portsmouth for the title. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover’s Henry Pletcher returns a volley during his doubles match with teammate Brendan Barth. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover’s Christian Mueller had the closest match of an otherwise lopsided day, taking a 9-7 decision at second singles to contribute to the Marauders’ state championship effort. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Bedford, n.h. — After his Hanover High School boys tennis team knocked off Lebanon in the NHIAA Division II semifinals last Thursday, Marauder coach Mark Lewis gave the squad three days off to help them stay loose heading into yesterday’s state championship match against Portsmouth. As it turned out, the final was also light duty.
Second-ranked Hanover made quick work of No. 1 Portsmouth at Bedford High School, needing roughly 30 minutes to register the five match wins necessary to clinch the championship in an eventual 9-0 rout of the Clippers.
Both teams entered 16-0, Portsmouth’s higher seeding coming thanks to a sturdier strength of schedule. But it was the Marauders asserting their strength on the court, winning seven matches by at least four games as the program won its sixth title in 10 years — but its first since 2009.
Lewis, who has repeatedly called this year’s Marauders the deepest and most talented he’s ever coached, wasn’t surprised with yesterday’s result. That didn’t make it any less satisfying.
“Any time you win a state championship, at any level, it’s special,” said Lewis, a former college coach at various midwestern institutions. “No one on this team had won a (tennis) championship, so we know it’s not easy. We were confident, but we weren’t going to celebrate until it was over.”
It was over early, thanks to dominant wins in five singles matches.
Freshman No. 1 ace Kotaro Horiuchi walloped Portsmouth junior Iani Stamenov at No. 1, 8-1, using his speed and skilled return placement to finish his rookie season 17-0. Senior Brendan Barth was equally solid against Clipper counterpart Pat DuPlessis in an 8-0 win at No. 3, while freshman Henry Pletcher bettered Portsmouth senior Eric Egeland at No. 4, 8-2.
Hanover sophomore Jackson Greenspan (No. 5; against Chris Rossi) and senior Sandy Yu (No. 6; against Ryan Bergeron) each won 8-3, Greenspan’s coming last to clinch the title for Hanover.
After a few modest cheers and high-fives, the Marauders gathered behind the No. 2 court to watch senior Christian Mueller dig out a 9-7 tiebreaker win over Portsmouth’s Bob Rizkalla in the most competitive match of the day.
“It fuels you to have everyone cheering behind you,” said a sweaty Mueller, who was excused from participating in doubles following the effort. “It makes it that much better to make a good shot.”
Doubles play featured more Hanover prowess, though Portsmouth’s Stamenov and Rizkilla rallied from a 5-2 deficit against Horiuchi and Yu before the No. 1 Marauder duo held on for an 8-6 win. Less competitive matches came at No. 2 — an 8-2 win by Barth and Pletcher against DuPlessis and Jack Dugan — and at No. 3, where Greenspan and Richard Qiu combined for an 8-4 win over Egeland and Rossi.
It was Hanover’s 15th shutout in 17 matches this season. The pair that weren’t came by 8-1 scores early in the year, the lone defeats in those matches each coming by non-starters and by 8-6 counts.
Even with all of the Marauders’ success, Barth wasn’t expecting them to have such an easy time against the Clippers. The only other D-II team with a perfect regular season, Portsmouth garnered six shutouts and had outscored opponents 123-21 heading into yesterday.
“I was a little surprised, looking around at the scores and seeing how much most of us were (leading),” said Barth, whose brother, Eric, was a senior on the Hanover team that was also undefeated and beat Portsmouth in the Class I final five years ago. “We know they’re a good team. We obviously just had a great afternoon.”
Clipper coach Saeb Stanton couldn’t say he was remarkably surprised at the outcome.
“The fact that we were seeded No. 1 was a quirk of the schedule,” said Stanton, a former collegiate all-American at NCAA Division III University of Redlands in California. “(Hanover) was clearly the best team, and we considered ourselves the underdog. … I was proud of our guys for putting a scare into them early on in some of the matches, but we were up against some polished tennis players. They’re more evolved than us and showed that they’re the class of our league.”
A mix of seasoned, senior leadership and focused underclassmen, the Marauders clearly enjoyed themselves this year under Lewis’ guidance. Captains Barth and Yu noted the team’s chemistry and willingness to make each other better.
“This was the deepest (tennis) team I’ve ever been on, and also the best group of personalities,” said Barth, a three-sport athlete who won his first state title since the 2010 D-II boys soccer crown. “It was the perfect way to end my high school career.”
Added Yu, who worked his way into the starting lineup for the first time this season: “We always felt like we were playing for each other and never lost site of our goals as a team.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.