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Alex Zuczek and his brother, teammates on the St. Bernard School boys' tennis team, generally fight over what Alex refers to as "dumb stuff."
"Socks. He wanted to wear my socks and I didn't want him to wear my socks," Zuczek said, asked to describe a few of their heated discussions. "Over food and stuff."
But when it came down to a rather significant brotherly moment, playing each other for the singles championship in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament on May 29, the boys reacted with a true warmth for each other that their mom, Etsuko, says doesn't always happen.
Older brother Nick, a junior and the top seed in the tournament, was forced to default due to a recurring elbow injury, giving No. 2-seeded Alex the ECC title.
The two were captured in a photograph as they left the court, Nick wincing in disappointment, Alex clasping his brother's hand in comfort.
Alex, a hard-hitting 15-year-old freshman who later reached the quarterfinals of the Class S state tournament, has been named The Day's 2014 All-Area Boys' Tennis Player of the Year.
"It's like my brother and sister," St. Bernard coach Tim Kolnaski said. "We're really competitive. (Nick and Alex) are competing, but they're family. The bottom line is you want him to be happy and successful because you love him."
"I was sad for him," Alex Zuczek said of his brother, whom he led 5-4 in the first set when the match ended. "I was keeping up with him. We were on serve. … I told my (athletic director), Mr. Case, to try to get us on opposite sides of the draw. I wanted to play (Nick) in the final, not before."
Alex said it was expected that Nick, the 2013 ECC runner-up, as well, would remain at No. 1 singles this season for the Saints.
"He's older. He's kind of superior to me," Alex said.
Alex said while his arm swings looser, allowing him a greater velocity on his shots, Nick's strengths are his spins and his consistency. The pair have competed in matches only a couple times, but practice against each other almost always and know how each other thinks.
Both were undefeated in the regular season, during which St. Bernard shared the ECC Small Division title.
Alex admits he still has things to work on: staying focused during a match, not getting frustrated at himself or at an opponent.
"He's always had a lot of potential. Alex is very talented; he hits a heavy ball," Kolnaski said. "His game's definitely developing. I'd say so. That's the thing. Controlling that, harnessing that, using that power at the right moments, not going for that big shot all the time."
The Zuczeks, who live in Westerly, drive to St. Bernard each morning with their father Richard, a professor in the humanities department at the Coast Guard Academy.
Alex, who is ranked 28th in New England in the United States Tennis Association New England 16-year-old division, also works at Terra Firma Farm in Stonington in his free time, attending to chores such as feeding the animals and fixing fences.
For his part, Alex calls the ECC title a "bad ending" because of the way it was decided.
"I wasn't happy with it. Having a match like that against my brother, especially," he said.
Nick, however, told reporters after the championship match how proud he was of Alex and was part of the crowd at Alex's state tournament matches, cheering him on.
Alex, who went into the state tournament unranked, topped Baron Strasburger of Nonnewaug, seventh-seeded Steven Boccia of East Catholic and Rounak Gokhale of Rocky Hill, all in straight sets, to reach the quarterfinals. Once there, he dropped a three-set match to second-seeded Ryan Foster of Hartford Classical, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
Perhaps winning that tournament will be something Zuczek accomplishes in the future, too. Right now, his coach is pleased with how Alex represented himself and the program as ECC champion.
"They're both great guys off the court," Kolnaski said of the Zuczeks. "I'm proud of how they conducted themselves, with etiquette and respect for your opponent. They both understood what was at stake and understood their opponent. ... It was well-deserved for whoever would get it."
Player of the Year: Alex Zuczek (St. Bernard)
Ben Biondi (East Lyme)
Zach Higgins (Ledyard)
Alan Luner (Waterford)
Brendan White (Old Lyme)
Nick Zuczek (St. Bernard)
Matthew Chan-Nipun Hewage (East Lyme)
Unni Kurumbail-Matthew Lin (East Lyme)
Josh Krasney-Johnny Fairfield-Sonn (Old Lyme)