By COACH CHRISTIAN PAUL
EHS Boys’ Varsity Tennis

“This year has been epic,” one parent said of the Essex boys’ tennis team’s 2018 season. With a 15-1 record against all opposition and a State Championship title (Essex’s first since 2011), there probably wasn’t a better word to describe the year: epic. What is truly amazing is that even before the championship title and the near perfect record, the season had already been great.

Aidan Jensen returns a backhand volley as he and David Knickerbocker (Essex) defeat Joshua Golonka and Gregory Golonka (Montpelier) in between the raindrops. (photo courtesy Irene Wrenner)

It all started with a win over tennis rivals South Burlington, a team Essex hadn’t beaten since 2015, with a close 4-3 match. South Burlington had Essex’s number over the years, but with a season opener win for the Hornets over the Wolves, the year began with exciting energy. It was followed by a win over Colchester, then Burlington and one over Champlain Valley Union. Weeks passed, and the season continued to roll with nine straight wins, the only loss coming from Stowe. With playoffs looming just around the corner, the regular season ended with wins over St. Johnsbury and Mount Mansfield. Whispers of winning a state title started to be heard within the small high school tennis community of Essex, and that perhaps the Hornets were the team to beat. However, one thing will always be true about tennis and in sports – the favorites do not always win, and there was still much more tennis to be played.

Being seeded second during the playoffs meant that Essex’s matches would all be played on home soil (an away match would only mean a meeting in the final with top-seeded rivals Stowe at their homecourt). Playoffs began with a win over Harwood, which set-up a quarterfinal clash once more against South Burlington – and it was a thriller. Tied at 3-3, with one match left to go, 5th singles player Brendan Brooks was down 5-4, and two-set points in the first set. In that moment, Essex’s journey towards a state title felt all but lost. But in typical Brooks fashion, a comeback win in the first set and handily winning the second set meant one step closer for Essex to the finals. Close to losing it all and yet still in the hunt for a state title, the team had renewed hope and a feeling of undeniable certainty, “it’s our time this year.” A win over Montpelier in rainy conditions in the semis setup a finals clash with Stowe in their backyard.

The Championship match against Stowe will be one that will always be remembered by those present. It was a titanic match, feeling as if all of Stowe came out to cheer their team. The finals was a back and forth see-saw match with Essex piling on the wins, only to be followed by Stowe with their own matching victories. The match eventually tied at 3-3 and it was up to senior Carl Fung to close it out, but it wouldn’t come easy. Fung won the first set after being down a set point, and came back from a 5-1 deficit in the second set to eventually win 7-4 in the tiebreaker. After a long title drought and lost chances to win in previous seasons, the Essex Hornets finally won their first State Championship title in seven years. The celebration between teammates, friends and family was jubilant.

Hornets team members and coach Christian Paul celebrate their first State Championship win since 2011, with a 4-3 victory over Stowe on Friday afternoon. (photo courtesy Irene Wrenner)

This past season for the Essex boys’ tennis team was quite unforgettable. Six seniors are graduating, including two-time state individual champion Preston Gordon, Andy Shen, Carl Fung, Lucas Buell, Ethan Brueckner and Alex He. As great as they all were as tennis players, the one thing they were missing was a state title, and did they ever deserve to end their high school tennis careers with a championship. Returning junior players were David Wrenner, Brendan Brooks, Paolo Mattos-Caned and Santosh Rajendran. They all played integral parts in the overall success of the year, and they are looking forward to begin next year as the leaders of a defending state championship team. Alongside them were freshmen Aidan Jensen, David Knickerbocker, Luke Alden and Eric Lu, who all learned firsthand the joys of being part of a high school tennis team. It was a season to remember, definitely an epic one.

Lastly, to my team; this journey that we went on this year has been unforgettable. I am so proud of each and everyone of you. It has been a privilege to have been your coach this year.