WILMINGTON – It has been quite a couple of years for the Wilmington High Boys Tennis team, with many great victories along the way. From winning the Middlesex League Freedom Division championship with an undefeated league record a year ago, to this season when they earned the program’s first tournament win since at least 1987 with a first round win over Dedham, the team has been through a lot and made some great program history.
But even with all they have accomplished over the past two seasons, it is doubtful that anything could match the excitement created last Wednesday afternoon at Wilmington High when the No. 4 Wildcats defeated No. 13 Swampscott in the MIAA Division 3 State Tournament Round of 16 in a dramatic fashion by a score of 3-2 to advance to the Elite Eight.
Just as they had in their first round win over Dedham two days prior, the Wildcats entered Wednesday’s match with a depleted lineup, missing two of their starters. But again, much like their matchup with Dedham, it hardly seemed to matter, as the Wildcats dug deep to pull out what had to be one of the most dramatic wins in program history, with the match not being decided until the second doubles team of sophomore Ryan Weinstein and freshman Michael Smaroff pulled out a dramatic 7-6 (10-8), 4-6, 7-6 (10-8) to clinch the victory.
“That was the closest tennis match I have ever been involved with,” Wildcats coach Rob Mailey said of the dramatic second doubles victory. “It was a great way to win a MIAA Tournament match. This was high school tennis at its finest. We have been on the wrong side of some of these 3-2 tournament losses, so it was nice to win one of them.”
Mailey, who has coached the Wildcats since 2010, after a lengthy career coaching at North Andover High School, not to mention a great tennis playing career of his own, is not exaggerating when he talks about the dramatics of this one, especially in the case of the second doubles match which clinched the victory for the Wildcats.
Weinstein and Smaroff fought off two match points during the tiebreaker along on their way to the victory, which advanced Wilmington into the Elite Eight, where they were eventually eliminated by Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday.
In addition to Weinstein and Smaroff, other winners on the day for the Wildcats included senior captain Anay Gandhi in first singles by a score of 6-2, 6-2, as well as junior Owen Mitchell in third singles by a score of 6- 4 6-1. For Mitchell it was the second tournament match in a row where he moved up from his normal role as a doubles player to fill in for the injured Sidd Karani, and for the second match in a row, the talented junior came out on top.
“That was a huge win for us and a huge win for Owen and it also bodes well for us for next year,” Mailey said. “I can see him stepping up into a singles role for us next season. That was a real good, commanding win for him. He is a kid who works really hard, so he deserves it.”
Gandhi, as he has done so many times this season, and so many times through his great career with the Wildcats, simply found a way to beat his opponent on his way to his 6-2, 6-2 victory in first singles.
“Anay beat a really good player,” Mailey said. “The score was 6-2, 6-2, but it was a very competitive match. A lot of the points were very long and Anay had to fight for them. They were evenly matched, but Anay just played really strong on the key points. That was as mentally tough as I have seen him play. That was a very good win for him.”
Sophomore Anuj Gandhi came up short in his second doubles match by a score of 6-1, 7-6 (8-6). But much like Anay’s match, Mailey felt like the final score did not indicate just how close the match actually was.
“Anuj started off slow, but I really felt like if he could have won the tiebreaker he would have had a very good chance to win the third set as well,” Mailey said. “He just came up a little short. The kid he played, played out of his mind and it seemed like he just didn’t miss. It was a great match.”
That probably sums up the match in its entirety as well, as it was a very well played match by both teams with the Wildcats eventually prevailing in the end, making Mailey one very proud coach.
“The way they have been doing this while dealing with injuries and everything else has been great.” Mailey said. “I couldn’t be prouder of this team with the way they have stepped forward. We talk about it all the time, but these guys really have stepped up and they deserve a lot of credit for what they have accomplished.”