East Lyme prevails in battle of tennis unbeatens

East Lyme - Believe it or not, there is such a thing as home-court advantage in tennis.

The East Lyme High School boys' tennis team played host to fellow Eastern Connecticut Conference aristocrat Waterford on Friday, thus East Lyme won, 5-2, to remain unbeaten while handing its neighbor its first loss.

"You know how Clemson has Death Valley?" Waterford coach Ralph DiSaia said with a chuckle. "For me, this is it. I'm now 0-14 here.

"I thought this would kind of break the streak, but unfortunately not. We've gone undefeated a couple of years since I've been at Waterford, but we didn't play here or they weren't on our schedule."

East Lyme senior Ben Biondi said: "Our Death Valley is Waterford. They're definitely our toughest competition."

Biondi and Nick Hotary won the top two singles matches for the Vikings (6-0). The teams of Matt Chan and Nipun Hewage, Matt Lin and Unni Kurumbail and Mukesh Kurumbail and Sujay Alavala gave East Lyme a sweep in doubles.

"Our team really pulled together," Biondi said. "We've been trying to work harder because last year, we lost our first overall match against these guys."

It was also East Lyme's only loss.

"Everyone played how they wanted to play," Biondi said. "I think we'll be ready for our away match against them in a few weeks (May 23)."

Willie and Benny Dong won at No. 3 and 4 singles, respectively, for Waterford (8-1).

"I thought the matchups were pretty good," DiSaia said. "I thought we had the matchups we wanted. I think the kids played pretty well."

The rivalry between the teams might play a part in the home-court advantage. The two schools have almost annually been the ECC's top programs and they're neighbors, thus adding bragging rights to the desire to be the best around.

"They're definitely our biggest rivals," Biondi said. "They have a lot of depth. A lot of the teams we play have really good (No.) 1 or 2 singles players. These guys have solid No. 1 doubles players, good (No.) 3 and 4 singles players, as well as 1 and 2. And their other doubles are perfect matches for our (No.) 2 and 3 doubles. It's really hard for the whole team to win."

DiSaia said: "We're always at each other. We're close by. The caliber of tennis is always good between the two schools. Usually we split and usually the matches are 4-3 every year. It's a really tight rivalry all the way through. The kids enjoy it a lot. It brings out the best in both teams."

Biondi, an ECC semifinalist last season, downed Waterford's Alan Luner 6-0, 6-1. Not too bad for someone who never played team tennis until his freshman year.

"I've worked harder," Biondi said. "Tennis is a mental game and, when you get down to it, physically it's taxing but mentally it's worse. And if you fall apart mentally, you're going to fall apart physically."

Hotary, a junior, beat senior Shashwat Kala 6-3, 6-2.

"Nick Hotary played Shashwat last year," East Lyme coach Susan Welshock said, "and they went neck-and-neck and had an extremely long match, probably three hours. Nick lost to Shashwat, so this is a big for him to play against him and take him in two sets. It was a personal victory for him."



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