By John Goralski
A small group of players huddled at the fence as a pair of former Blue Knight tennis captains scrambled across the high school courts in a heated battle in the top men’s division.
Nate Mullins outlasted his first round opponent to reach the battle of Blue Knights. Mark Habek overwhelmed his early match-up, and the two former captains were locked in a heated battle in the second round.
Habek won the match. His prize? Another former captain in the quarterfinal round.
The Wayton Open has become a reunion of sorts for the Blue Knights, and that’s just what Matt Wayton—another former Blue Knight—had envisioned when he started the annual scholarship tournament.
“It’s been great so far,” he said. “We have a lot of local talent and a good group of people from the area, and that’s true in every bracket. There are a lot of former No. 1 and No. 2 players from the high school teams, and we have drawn pretty well from other towns like Wallingford and Cheshire. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The tournament roster reads like a Who’s Who of Blue Knight tennis. Habek, a 2006 graduate, is a mainstay of the annual tournament, returning to his home town to grab more than one tournament title. Mullins was the most recent Blue Knight captain. Next round, Habek will challenge Matt Downes (Class of 2012), but almost every division sports a former varsity captain and a litany of current and former players.
Habek has clawed his way into the final eight in the men’s A singles and the men’s doubles brackets, and he’s fought into the final four of the mixed doubles brackets on the other side of the brackets from Grant Ogrin and Angela Balaoing—two current high school players. Southington High School junior Catie Wormer is still alive in the women’s singles quarterfinals. Between his responsibilities as tournament director, Wayton managed to claw his way into the quarterfinals of the men’s B-division.
But perhaps the most interesting matchup will come in the quarterfinal round of the women’s doubles division. Lady Knight senior Cassidy Race and her sister, Caroline, are scheduled to face Lady Knight coach Robin Thompson and her doubles partner, Angela Hage, when the semifinals pick up on Saturday.
As last year’s runners-up, Thompson and Hage are the favorites, but the Race sisters are going to be a tough challenge for their coach.
“The competition has been really good. We have our classic players like Mark Habek, Ben Doolittle, Eric Henne, and Dennis Scarpa. Then we have people that just come out here to have fun—like my family and friends. We have everything from beginners to college-level players,” Wayton said. “There’s a division for everybody this year.”
After three days of competition the tournament is right on track, and that’s good news after last year’s competition was stretched to the breaking point with rain delays, scheduling conflicts, and overwhelming numbers. This year, Wayton enlisted help from a number of current and former players, and the first weekend went off without a glitch.
Almost every quarterfinal match is set with a number of semifinal berths already decided. In three days, officials managed to schedule 113 matches at three different locations. Wayton credits his staff for making that possible with first round match-ups being played at the high school complex and courts at Memorial Park and Recreation Park.
“Last year was all about growing pains. We had a huge explosion with a big influx of people. This year, we stabilized it,” he said. “We have quite a few players and former players helping out this year, and that’s made a big difference. Everything seems to be flowing, and we haven’t had anything other than a few minor issues. We were able to seed everybody evenly to give everyone a shot to advance and have a good time.”
Wayton hopes to play the remaining quarterfinal matches during the week, and he expects all seven divisions to be ready for semifinal matches when play resumes at the high school on Saturday. Semifinal matches are scheduled for 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on Saturday with the championship round scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday.
Wayton urges fans to come out and root for their favorite local players and help support the signature tournament that has helped to fund over $1,800 in college scholarships to Southington High School students since 2012.
Who knows? Next year’s scholarship winner might be this year’s tournament champion.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.