Doubles teams give Whalers' tennis a boost

C.J. Parker of New London returns a shot in a doubles match Wednesday against St. Bernard. Parker, who is one of several basketball players out for the tennis team for the first time, teamed with Zavier Veliz for a 6-0, 6-0 win.
C.J. Parker of New London returns a shot in a doubles match Wednesday against St. Bernard. Parker, who is one of several basketball players out for the tennis team for the first time, teamed with Zavier Veliz for a 6-0, 6-0 win. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

New London - C.J. Parker gets a competitive spirit from his parents, Craig and Missy, both coaches at New London High School.

"I always want to play three sports and be well-rounded," said Parker, a sophomore whose dad coaches the perennially successful boys' basketball team and whose mom is the softball coach.

"... When I was young, I was always good at baseball, but when I got to high school I wasn't feeling it. My mom always says I broke her heart because she's a big baseball fan."

This year, following a boys' basketball season in which he was a member of the Whalers' team that won the ECC tournament as underdogs, Parker chose to play tennis.

Seth Lake and Collin Sawyer, also members of Craig Parker's boys' basketball team which upended eventual Class L state champion Woodstock Academy in overtime in the ECC semifinals, also went out for tennis for the first time in their careers.

The result: somewhat of a doubles dynasty for New London's tennis team.

In the past, New London would be swept by ECC Large Division opponents such as Norwich Free Academy.

This season, the Whalers are 2-5 overall, 0-3 in the Large Division, with four 4-3 losses, two to NFA. St. Bernard added a 4-3 defeat to the Whalers' resume on Wednesday, in which, like all the other 4-3 defeats, New London swept the doubles matches.

Parker and Zavier Veliz are unbeaten at No. 3 doubles, according to coach David Gruber. Lake and Sawyer, who play at No. 1 doubles, and Wasaam and Bahaa Hoda, brothers who form the No. 2 doubles team, have one loss each against Woodstock Academy.

It is the largest number of players on the team in recent history, Gruber said, 19. And the doubles strength has caught opponents off guard.

"I'm very impressed," St. Bernard coach Tim Kolnaski said Wednesday. "Usually when we come here they don't have a lot of depth. To see how deep their doubles are is very impressive, impressive to watch."

Lake and Sawyer defeated David Abraham and Eric Ostaszewski 6-1, 7-5 and Hoda and Hoda topped Jack Nassetta and Tinh Nguyen, 6-2, 6-2. Shortly thereafter, Parker and Veliz won 6-0, 6-0.

Lake and Sawyer transferred from Stonington this year to attend New London's Science and Technology Magnet School. The two immediately got used to the fact that New London basketball meant perfection and, after the graduation of All-American Kris Dunn, there was some "trash-talking" from other teams questioning the Whalers' fortitude.

"We hadn't proved ourselves yet," Sawyer said. "After we won the ECC, nobody said anything anymore."

The two friends, both sophomores who can often be found shooting baskets at the YMCAs in Westerly and Mystic, were helped by transferring at the same time. They take a bus to school every morning that drops students from the town at other regional schools.

The duo is naturally athletic, Gruber said, allowing the boys to hold their own while still learning the nuances of tennis. Sawyer, for example, used his height several times to hit smashes at the net which were impossible for St. Bernard to return.

"If you're athletic, you can be a good tennis player," Gruber said. "When I coached at Windham, there were some football players that were good tennis players. ... Woodstock was the only team; you could tell their players were talking and moving well together."

"It's surprising because most of us haven't played until this year," Parker said. "We take pride in it. When we sweep the doubles, it's an awesome feeling. ... It's different (than basketball). It's a whole new experience."

The Whalers are working on their singles play, too, Gruber said. Today, New London will have challenge matches, with several of the junior varsity players vying for singles spots.

On Wednesday, New London's JV players were competing against each other because St. Bernard didn't have a JV team.

"That's been us before," Gruber said. "... I think last year we didn't win a match against NFA; we lost 7-0, 7-0 both times."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

New London's Seth Lake, right, laughs during a doubles match against St. Bernard Wednesday as teammate Collin Sawyer looks on. The duo won the No. 1 match 6-1, 7-5, but St. Bernard won the match 4-3.
New London's Seth Lake, right, laughs during a doubles match against St. Bernard Wednesday as teammate Collin Sawyer looks on. The duo won the No. 1 match 6-1, 7-5, but St. Bernard won the match 4-3. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo
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