By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
EAST MARLBOROUGH – The boy’s team at Unionville has consistently been the Ches-Mont’s premier tennis program for many years. And even before current head coach, Sharon Largent, took over the reins a decade ago, the Indians always seemed to place a great emphasis on doubles.
If you can have success in doubles, the theory went, you can have success overall because it promotes team building and develops skills. And it takes four points to win a dual meet, which can be accomplished by grabbing all four doubles matches.
“And we’ve done that before,” said Largent.
Unionville sure looks like it is head and shoulders above all of its league competition once again this season. With Wednesday’s 7-0 victory over visiting Avon Grove, the Indians already secured the Ches-Mont American crown. And they did it without No. 3 singles player Victor Li, who is currently out of the country on vacation.
At 10-0 with three league matches to play, Unionville is on the way to its seventh overall Ches-Mont crown in the last eight seasons. The only exception came in 2014, when Great Valley prevailed.
“We have a long standing tennis reputation, and year-in and year-out, we are darn good,” Largent said. “A lot of kids around here play tennis. And they come into high school with a knowledge of the game. I don’t have to teach them the game. What we work on is strategy.”
The 2017 campaign, however, could wind up being a special one amidst all of the past successes because for the first time in a while, the Indians have a potent 1-2 singles punch to go with the usual excellence at doubles.
“With the Bradley’s, we are more of the whole package,” Largent acknowledged.
She is referring to underclass brothers Tristan and Ethan Bradley, who have been a powerful duo at the top of the lineup. An All-Area first teamer a year ago, Tristan is now a sophomore and is the Ches-Mont’s top individual player other than Downingtown East’s Michael Dickson, who is the defending state champ. Ethan is a 6-foot-4 freshman who possesses a power game that is very rare for a 14 year old.
“The Bradley brothers are phenomenal and they are willing to help hit with all of us and work on certain skills,” said senior co-captain Matthew Daniels, who plays No. 3 doubles.
Largent believes the Bradleys are already the best singles duo at Unionville since Michael Furr and Johnny Wu – both state titlists – played together during the 2010-11 seasons.
“Tristan’s development is on-par with Michael and Johnny’s as a sophomore,” she said. “He is not a big kid but he grew four inches from last season.”
And with a big serve and the ability to cover the entire court, Ethan may end up being even better than his older brother — but it hasn’t happened yet.
“It was never a question about who would be No. 1,” Largent said. “Tristan has more experience and can still handle Ethan. I don’t know if or when it will turn, but right now they are comfortable with where they are.”
The Indians are 11-1 overall, and the only setback was a 4-3 marathon non-league match with Lower Merion, the two-time defending state team champions. Unionville dropped all three singles matches, but still had a chance to win before falling in three sets at No. 1 doubles in a tie-breaker.
“Our first goal is to win the league,” Largent said. “Our second goal is to get a top-four seed for districts. Last year we were the No. 5 seed and had to play Lower Merion, who had won the state title the season before. With a top four seed, we would have a better draw and have a chance to make it to states, which is our next goal.”
Unbeaten in the Ches-Mont since 2014, the Indians topped Great Valley 6-1 earlier this season, but it was much closer than that. There were four three-set matches, and Unionville ended up winning them all.
“There was a time during that match where I thought we were going to lose it 2-5,” Largent said. “I was so proud of our guys because they just never quit.”
With Largent leading the way, the program has developed and maintained a winning culture. One major factor is a level of commitment from the players that isn’t the norm.
“The big thing that I think has kept us on top in this area is we train all year,” she said. “We go every Sunday night from November to March and work out for two hours at Penn Oaks (Tennis and Fitness Club). It is completely voluntary and I have to turn kids away because we have too many.”
Another reason is that from class to class, Unionville tennis players understand the program’s winning tradition, take pride in it, and aspire to keep it going.
“Everybody wants to knock us off so we always expect the best from our opponents, and that helps us not to get too complacent,” said Mikey Muscato, who plays at No. 1 doubles with Harris Avgousti.
“Unionville has a culture of winning so you know that everyone on the team is going to be good. You have to bring you’re ‘A’ game,” Daniels added.
And according to Largent, getting younger players to understand the program’s longstanding tradition comes from the team leaders and not from her.
“I remember when I was in 10th grade, we had a bunch of seniors that stressed all of that stuff, so now we are doing that for the younger kids,” said Avgousti, a senior.
“Our seniors let the other kids know how we do things and what we expect,” Largent added. “I don’t ever remember telling them about all of this stuff, but they know about it because they talk to each other.
“And it is better coming from the kids than from me preaching.”
Unionville 7, Avon Grove 0
Singles – 1. T. Bradley (U) def. Cavalier 6-1, 6-1; 2. E. Bradley (U) def. Hannon 6-1, 6-2; 3. Ciancuilli (U) def. Opromolla 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
Doubles – 1. Avgousti-Muscato (U) def. Pederson-McCarthy 6-0, 6-0; 2. Sokoloff-Hopping (U) def. A. Prosser-J. Prosser 6-1, 6-2; 3. Daniels-Radkakrishman (U) def. Burton-Carr 6-3, 6-2; 4. Starnes-Maheshwari (U) def. Cordell-Lucas 6-3, 6-1.