Hanover boys tennis edges Derryfield, secures rematch with Bedford for title

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-31-2023 7:36 AM

HANOVER — The head coach is different, and so is two-thirds of the starting singles lineup. But the final destination and opponent for the Hanover High boys tennis team will be the same.

The No. 2 seed and defending NHIAA Division I state champion Bears overcame an early deficit to edge third-seeded Derryfield, 5-4, in Monday’s semifinals at Storrs Pond to punch their ticket back to the championship match, which will take place Wednesday at Southern New Hampshire University. They will face No. 1 seed Bedford, who they defeated last year to end the Bulldogs’ run of eight consecutive titles.

“Our team has a lot of mental toughness,” first-year Hanover coach Kelly Finn said. “They really have grit and they dig in. They had a lot of good aggression at the net. We’ve been working on that a lot, and it paid off. They kept playing their game, and they didn’t crumble under pressure.”

Hanover had defeated the Cougars, 8-1, in the regular-season finale on May 19, but junior Henry Werner’s match went to a tiebreak that day, and three other Bears victories ended either 9-7 or 8-6. So the teams were much more evenly matched than the scoreline from the first meeting suggested, and it played out that way Monday.

With losses at Nos. 1, 2 and 4 singles, Hanover (15-1) found itself in a 3-1 hole even as junior Zach Pearson won his match handily, 8-3, at No. 3. But sophomore Ian Holmes rallied from a 7-4 deficit at No. 6, winning the last five games to earn a 9-7 victory. At No. 5, Werner took control late in a back-and-forth match for an 8-5 win, tying the overall score heading into doubles.

“I just thought about how I needed to do this for my team, my family, my coach, my school,” Werner said. “We’ve come too far to give up, and I play a part in that. I needed to get my job done.”

Pearson teamed with sophomore Sam Ames, the Bears’ top singles player, for an 8-3 victory at No. 1 doubles to give the hosts a one-point lead. Hanover needed just one more win to advance, but that was looking unlikely as the No. 2 pairing of junior Nick Pais and Holmes trailed 7-4 while the No. 3 duo of sophomores Ryder Wilson and Alex Orsino faced a 5-2 deficit on the adjacent court.

The two matches ended barely a second apart. Pais and Holmes’ comeback attempt fell short in a 9-7 loss, but Wilson and Orsino took control, winning six straight games and taking the match, 8-5.

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“We needed to fight just as hard, we had to work for it, and we did,” Finn said. “It was probably the closest match we’ve had all year. The wins came from all across the ladder, so that was important. Ian had an amazing comeback; that was awesome to see. Our lower ladder in singles can really turn the tide.”

Hanover got the better of Bedford in last year’s final, but the Bulldogs, who rolled over Bishop Guertin, 8-1, in the other semifinal, are unbeaten and responsible for the Bears’ only loss, a 7-2 defeat back on April 14.

Bedford lost just one player from last year’s team to graduation, compared to Hanover’s four. Pearson picked up his team’s lone singles victory in the teams’ regular-season meeting, and he and Pais rolled to a win in doubles, but the Bears were otherwise shut out. Hanover has won 14 in a row since that day.

“We’ve gotten a lot better since then,” Finn said. “We have seasoned doubles teams at this point who have been playing together for a little while. It’s going to take us not worrying about it being Bedford, just going out and playing our game.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.