Knights Refuse to Lose and Continue to Cruise
Senior captain Jesse McGannon and the Westbrook boys’ tennis squad secured the No. 1 seed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament last week with a 7-0 win over Haddam- Killingworth on May 3. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News)
Junior Joey Caslin has been the poster child for mental fortitude considering his back-against-the-wall play thus far this season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News)
Senior Daniel Ruppenicker has shown marked improvement in his play over the course of this season. Prior to this campaign, Ruppenicker hadn’t played any competitive tennis matches, but he’s adjusting nicely. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News)
The Westbrook boys’ tennis squad remains undefeated so far this season. The Knights secured the No. 1 seed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament last week with a victory over Haddam-Killingworth in a match that began on April 30, but was completed on May 3.
That victory marked Westbrook’s final game needed to have a 10-0 record in terms of Shoreline seeding, and the Knights have plenty of time to hone their skills over the final two weeks of the regular season.
In the typical dominant fashion that Westbrook has displayed thus far this season, the Knights recorded four victories last week. The victories improved Westbrook’s record this year to 13-0.
The Knights completed their 7-0 win over Haddam-Killingworth, and added another 7-0 victory over the Cougars after wrapping up the final matches from April 30 against H-K.
On May 7, Westbrook headed to Portland for another 7-0 road win. The next day, the Knights beat Cromwell 6-1 on the road as well.
Against H-K the Knights saw senior captain Jesse McGannon earn a 6-2, 6-2 win at the No. 1 spot, while junior Joey Caslin won 6-0, 6-3 at No. 2. At No. 3 singles, senior Cooper Whitehouse claimed a 6-0, 6-2 win, and at No. 4 Elliot Koplas netted a 6-0, 6-0 victory. At No. 5, senior Daniel Ruppenicker grabbed the 6-0, 6-3 win.
As for doubles, the No. 1 tandem of senior Gareth Whitehouse and junior Mason Malchiodi got the 6-0, 6-0 shutout win, and the No. 2 duo won via forfeit.
The next match against H-K went similarly with wins for McGannon (6-3, 6-), Caslin (6-0, 6-1), Cooper Whitehouse (6-0, 6-0), Koplas (6-0, 6-1), and Ruppenicker (6-2, 6-1). For doubles, Gareth Whitehouse and Malchiodi (6-0, 6-0), and Freund and Engels (6-0, 6-0) also grabbed wins.
On May 7, McGannon (6-3, 6-0), Caslin (6-0, 6-1), Cooper Whitehouse (6-0, 6-0), Koplas (6-0, 6-1), and Ruppenicker (forfeit) all grabbed wins. On the doubles side, Malchiodi and Whitehouse (6-0, 6-0) won their match, while Freund and Engles (forfeit) also won theirs.
The next day, the Knights claimed a 6-1 win over Cromwell. McGannon (6-3, 6-3), Caslin (6-2, 6-2), Cooper Whitehouse (6-0, 6-0), Koplas (6-1, 6-2), and Ruppenicker (6-0, 6-0) earned singles match wins. Malchiodi and Gareth Whitehouse (6-0, 6-0) took the doubles victory for Westbrook.
Westbrook boys’ tennis Head Coach Dan Shapiro has been impressed with his team’s desire for victories and willingness to put in the work to be great.
“I think what separates his team is their commitment to the team and each other. They practice harder than most of the teams I’ve ever coached,” said Shapiro. “I think they are all friends and they are genuinely rooting for each other. They get pleasure from seeing their teammates do well.”
A big contributor to the Knights’ success this season has been McGannon. Coach Shapiro has enjoyed watching McGannon grow into his game over the course of his four-year tenure at Westbrook.
“Jesse’s doing so well. He started three years ago as a beginning tennis player. He’s worked his way into a very solid No. 1 player. He’s only lost to matches against the two other top players in the conference at Valley and Old Lyme, but he’s played very well,” Shapiro said. “He’s playing more aggressively, and his mental toughness has improved dramatically. He probably works the hardest to improve his game year round. He’s just playing all summer long against good opponents and committed improving.”
A big reason that Westbrook has remained undefeated comes down to Caslin. Coach Shapiro has been impressed by his toughness and refusal to give up, even against formidable opponents.
“Joey’s naturally talented. He had three tremendous wins this year. The No. 2s on Old Lyme, East Hampton, and Valley are all excellent players, and Joey beat all three of them in third and decisive sets,” Shapiro said. “He even had to save two match points against Valley. He was down 5-3, 40-15 in the final set and had to save two match points on the road to eventually win 7-5.”
There’s a couple of other seniors playing important roles for the Knights this season in No. 3 singles player Cooper Whitehouse, and his brother Gareth Whithouse. Gareth Whitehouse shares the court with Malchiodi as the No. 1 doubles tandem.
“Cooper is undefeated this year. He just simply doesn’t give up. Between Cooper and his brother Gareth, they got a lot of confidence when we won against that 16-2 Cromwell team from two years ago. Cooper won both of his matches 7-6, while Gareth and their older brother Ian won at No. 2 doubles. Their matches were important and gave us the 4-3 win that year,” said Shapiro. “Gareth’s game is really conducive to doubles and Cooper is more suited to singles. Gareth and Mason have really improved a lot in terms of communication with each other, but they have two hard matches coming up against Old Lyme and Valley.”
Coach Shapiro has gotten unexpected quality match play from Koplas at the No. 4 spot. Koplas has yet to lose a match, and he’s had to take on some stiff competition.
“Elliot has been remarkable. He beat a very good No. 4 on Valley. He’s incredibly consistent, and now, he’s working on his aggressiveness,” Shapiro said. “It’s almost shocking how much his skills have improved in just a month and a half. He hasn’t played anything like a varsity match before this season.”
Rounding out the singles lineup is senior Daniel Ruppenicker, who played his first varsity tennis match this season, as well. Even with limited experience, Ruppenicker has already earned Coach Shapiro’s trust at the No. 5 spot.
“Daniel’s done a great job. He’s the kind of kid that asks if I can stay late after practice to help him work on stuff. He’s always asking the right questions, too,” Shapiro said. “He takes his losses personally. He’s developing mental toughness. He got beat 6-0 in his first set against Valley, and most kids when they lose a set like that, they fold. He came back and won the second set 6-3. He lost the third set, but he learned a lot about himself in terms of competitiveness and fighting back. I think he’s going to continue to improve.”
The No. 2 doubles tandem of Freund and Engels is also earning significant wins for the Knights. Neither athlete is a tennis player by trade, but their overall athleticism has made them effective.
“The interesting thing about Jonah and Ryan is that they are better in other sports than they are in tennis. Jonah has a good chance to play soccer in college and Ryan is a varsity level basketball player,” Shapiro said. “They’ve both improved so much. They are a really strong No. 2 doubles team that enjoys playing with each other. Ryan didn’t even own a tennis racquet when the season started. He’s made tremendous strides.”
Sophomore Eric DeSousa will also play some important matches for Westbrook before the year is through. While DeSousa hasn’t gotten much time on the court yet, he will be relied upon once the Knights get to states.
“Eric is going to end up playing in states. He’s working so hard. The format for state is four singles and three doubles, so he will definitely play. He’s worked really hard to improve to where he can help our team,” Shapiro said. “In states, he will pair up with Daniel because Jonah and Ryan are playing well together. So the plan right now is for Daniel and Eric to play three doubles, and I’m hoping they can win a match there. It could be a very important point for our team.”
Coach Shapiro and Assistant Coach Jeff Beeman have their athletes honed in on the playoffs at this point. The Knights are eager to show what their capable of in the postseason tournaments.
“We always talk about the three seasons the Shoreline regular season, the Shoreline Tournament, and states. We’re going to make a run in the state tournament. There are teams out there that are very good, so we are trying to prepare,” said Shapiro. “This team doesn’t have an arrogance about it. It has a determination about it. I think that they understand that what they have achieved is through hard work. They don’t have time or effort to worry about other things. They are focused on the next match. That’s what we talk about, the next match, the next point, the next game.”