Championship reflections: Hanover boys tennis built on camaraderie

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2022 9:13:06 PM
Modified: 6/24/2022 9:12:48 PM

After winning its first NHIAA state championship since 2013, and the first since moving up to Division I, the Hanover High boys tennis team celebrated in style.

“We went to Buffalo Wild Wings,” senior Alex Rockmore said. “Is there anything else high school sports teams do after a championship?”

The Bears certainly earned the trip. They completed a 14-0 regular season, then knocked off eight-time defending champion Bedford, 6-3, in the title match on June 2 at Southern New Hampshire University.

For seniors Evan Yang, Rockmore and Kevin Pillsbury, the victory was particularly cathartic — in 2019, that trio’s freshman season, Hanover fell to Bedford in the state finals.

That core, which filled the Bears’ top three singles positions, was joined last year by Charlie Birkmeyer, who did not lose a singles match in 2022. Freshman Sam Ames, who slotted in at No. 6 singles, also had an undefeated season. Yang and Rockmore won every match at No. 1 doubles, as did the No. 3 doubles team of Birkmeyer and sophomore Zach Pearson.

Hanover opened the season with six straight relatively stress-free victories, then headed to Derryfield on April 22. Nearly every match that day was close, but the Bears took four of the six singles points and clinched the 5-4 victory via the Yang-Rockmore tandem.

“My coaching philosophy is that going undefeated is overrated,” Hanover head coach Jarrod Shaheen said. “It’s a tough burden to carry. (Derryfield) was our reality check. We’d been cruising, and Derryfield was a half-step below Bedford, so if they’re going to play us that close, we really needed to make sure we take it up to the next level for the remainder of the season.”

After two more easy wins, the Bears welcomed Bedford to Storrs Pond on May 7, with the Bulldogs also entering unbeaten. Hanover’s top three singles players all lost close matches, with Yang’s defeat ending in a tiebreak, but the Bears won everywhere else to take the match, 6-3. Pearson shut out his opponent at No. 5 singles, and the three doubles matches all went Hanover’s way.

It was the Bears’ first victory over Bedford since they joined Division I in 2015.

“We learned that we can beat Bedford,” Shaheen said. “When there’s a storied program like Bedford, well-coached, great players, a lot of depth — beating them during the regular season, it was the first major message. The path became clearer.”

From there, three of Hanover’s last four regular-season wins were shutouts, with the lone exception being an 8-1 victory at Bishop Guertin. The Bears also shut out Keene in the Division I quarterfinals, then faced rematches with their two toughest opponents in the final two rounds.

Hanover’s 6-3 win over Derryfield in the semifinals on May 30 could have been more lopsided, as three of the four closest matches on the day went to the Cougars. But Pillsbury pulled out a tight win at No. 3 singles, Ames recorded a shutout at No. 6 and Birkmeyer and Pearson dropped just one game in their doubles match. The Bears were off to the finals.

Two days later, the Bulldogs had the edge after the first three matches despite Rockmore’s tiebreak victory, but just as they did in the regular-season meeting, Hanover’s bottom three singles players all won, dropping just five games combined. That left just one more point needed to clinch the title, which Yang and Rockmore delivered with an 8-4 victory at No. 1 doubles. Birkmeyer and Pearson then completed their perfect season by winning a tiebreak at No. 3 doubles.

“They’re an unbelievable team; they’ve been an unbelievable team every time I’ve played them, so there’s a ton of respect there,” Rockmore said. “It’s always the most fun when you play the best teams. It’s a lot more technical (and) a lot more strategic than a lot of the other matches we play. When we play Bedford, it’s more like, ‘What do I have to do against this specific guy? What am I going to take advantage of here?’ ”

In the individual singles tournament, Yang, seeded seventh, fell in the quarterfinals to Lebanon sophomore Nolan Arado, while Rockmore won his first-round match before losing to Bedford’s top player, No. 4 seed Lucas Mack, in the second round. As a doubles team, Yang and Rockmore were the top seed and rolled into the championship but fell to Arado and his older brother, senior Mason Arado, in straight sets. Pillsbury and Ames were defeated by the No. 2 seeded team out of Alvirne in the second round.

Throughout the season, the Bears had been asking Shaheen if they could go out to dinner if they won the state title, so the Buffalo Wild Wings outing was several weeks in the making.

“Everyone just enjoyed each other’s company. We got to reminisce and ride that high of (being) undefeated D-I state champs,” Shaheen said. “You beat Bedford twice, including the state championship, it’s not a fluke. We drove back to the high school, and there were two police cars waiting with their lights going off. As we got off the bus, the parents all there (with) cowbells and noisemakers and cheering all the players on. It was a really nice moment.”

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




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