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    Saturday, June 10, 2023

    Albrikes holds off challenge from O’Neil to repeat as ECC singles champion

    Fitch’s Will Albrikes reacts to a point during the Eastern Connecticut Conference tennis championships at Stonington High School on Wednesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Stonington’s Brady O'Neil hits a ball during the Eastern Connecticut Conference tennis championships at Stonington High School on Wednesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Stonington’s Conrad Tobiassen moves to a ball as doubles teammate Tucker Callahan looks on during the Eastern Connecticut Conference tennis championships at Stonington High School on Wednesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    East Lyme’s doubles teammates Rohun Boopathy, left, and Rohan Purohit celebrate a point during the Eastern Connecticut Conference tennis championships at Stonington High School on Wednesday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Stonington – A tired and happy Will Albrikes walked off the Stonington High School tennis courts on Wednesday after defending his Eastern Connecticut Conference championship singles title.

    Stonington freshman Brady O’Neil, who made Albrikes earn every point, remained on the court, recovering from the hard-fought match that featured numerous marathon rallies.

    A sophomore from Fitch, Albrikes secured a 6-0, 6-3 victory.

    “They were going at it,” Fitch coach Andrew Small said. “These guys are going to be rivals for the next several years. … He made Will work.”

    It was the third meeting of the season between the two players who’ve known each other since the fifth grade. Albrikes won both regular season matches, needing three sets the first time and going straight sets in the rematch.

    On Wednesday, Albrikes had experience and confidence on his side. He played an aggressive style that kept O’Neil, the second seed, on his heels. He ended several long games with lethal winners down the line.

    Those killer shots energized Albrikes, the top seed, and drained O’Neil.

    “That was keeping me in it,” Albrikes said. “I had to keep pumping myself up and keep going.”

    And when Albrikes captured the first set, 6-0, in the championship match, he looked to be well on his way to victory.

    “He’s very consistent,” O’Neil said. “He hits the ball deep and hard most of the time. The first set I was still trying to find out what a final was like.”

    But O’Neil refused to buckle.

    Seven games into the second set, O’Neil trailed 4-3.

    “I just decided to try to make him earn it,” ONeil said.

    Albrikes made an adjustment, going back on the attack. The strategy worked as the Fitch sophomore regained control of the match.

    “He played great,” Albrikes said. “I got a little tentative in the second set. But you’ve got to go for it.”

    Albrikes rallied from an early deficit in the eighth game to go up 5-3 and simply wore down his opponent on the way to closing out the win. He remains undefeated this season.

    After shaking hands at the net, Albrikes headed over to talk to friends while O’Neil sat down on the court near the net.

    “It feels great,” Albrikes said. “It hasn’t set in yet. I know tomorrow I’ll be hyped.”

    The championship match experience will help O’Neil down the road.

    “I was tired by the end, really tired,” O’Neil said. “It was fun. I would have liked to win it, but he played really well.”

    In doubles action, the top-seeded Stonington duo of Tucker Callahan and Conrad Tobiassen defeated East Lyme’s Rohan Purohit and Rohun Boopathy, the No. 3 seed, 6-3, 6-4.

    Callahan played in the singles final last season but switched to doubles after suffering a back injury that also bothers his shoulder. He serves underhanded.

    “I had to do it for the team,” Callahan said of the switch.

    When asked about the championship match, Callahan turned to Tobiassen and said, “He wouldn’t miss a shot.”

    Tobiassen credited his teammate for their success.

    “I would lob it and keep it in play and Tucker would finish the point,” he said.

    They didn’t drop a set in the ECC tournament while remaining undefeated on the season, but had to hold off a stiff challenge from Purohit and Boopathy.

    “It’s nice to win (today),” Callahan said. “I’m glad our competition was challenging. That was the hardest team that we’ve played.”

    ECC tennis teams will now focus on competing in the state tournament.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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