By John Goralski
Luke Pfanzelt slid into one corner to return an impossible shot. He turned and lunged at the other corner and nearly came away with a point.
On Saturday, May 31, Pfanzelt’s qualifying round victory advanced him into a contest with last year’s defending champion, but Southington’s No. 4 player was matching his opponent on one of Yale University’s indoor courts.
His teammates gathered above him in the gallery to greet Pfanzelt’s efforts with a chorus of ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ as Pfanzelt fought for every point. He lost both sets, but scored managed to avoid the shutout. He lost most games, but managed to rally for points and broken serves. Pfanzelt even managed to score an ace against the top ranked player in the state, and his teammates exploded with cheers.
Coach Tony Mauro sat back and drank in the atmosphere with a quiet pleasure.
“This has been fun. As much as I have a negative feeling about the structure of this tournament, I think that if we came here every year I might have different feeling about it,” said the coach. “This has been such a nice experience.”
Nobody escaped the second round, but the Knights are closing the gaps on the perennial powerhouses. All but one Southington entry advanced into the second round of competition, and junior singles ace Kunal Kataria nearly escaped the first day of competition.
It took the top player to end Pfanzelt’s postseason, and it took the No. 2 player to topple Grant Ogrin. Mauro said that the competition was a good measure for his growing program.
“I think this shows that we’re at the next level,” said Mauro. “We’ve raised the bar every so slightly, and it keeps getting higher and higher. I can see them getting used to the pace of this higher level game. That’s what’s good about this tournament. You can see how high the bar is, and some of these bars are really high.”
For the first time in years, all three of Southington’s doubles reached the second round. Michael Baloing and Ben Chasse won their first match easily in straight sets. Rohan Katarian and Will Lefkovich won the tie breaker in their second set to clinch the match. Alex Angelillo and Jacob Chasse won a tie breaker to clinch their first set and rebounded from a loss in their second set to advance to the second round.
Angelillo-Chasse and Kataria-Lefkovitch challenged seeded tandems in the second round before falling in competitive contests. Nate Mullins was the only player to lose his first contest, but even his loss came at the hands of a ranked player.
“Sometimes a victory can be to steal a couple of games from the guy that goes on to win the tournament,” said Mauro. “I told them that when they’re playing a seeded player that I want them to try to win just one point at a time, one game at a time. I didn’t want them to worry about the war. I just wanted them to concentrate on the battle and win as many points as they can. I’m so happy with the way our guys played.”
The tournament marked the end of Southington’s spring season, but Mauro said that it has raised the bar for future years. Angelillo, Lefkovich, and Mullins are the only graduates from Southington’s postseason roster, so Mauro expects even better things to come.
“This is an experience that you have to see to appreciate it,” said the coach. “I can see it in our players and the guys that are spectators. This has raised our standard.”
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By John Goralski