Haverford School doubles up on its success

NEWTOWN SQUARE — The annual Inter-Ac League tennis tournament Tuesday at Episcopal Academy was one last chance for one of the best high school teams you’ll ever see to strut its stuff.

Haverford School didn’t just win the Inter-Ac League title this spring, the Fords demolished as good a tennis league as you’ll find in Pennsylvania. They didn’t lose a single match in sweeping to 7-0 victories over all the Inter-Ac teams. They finished sixth in the National High School Tennis All-American Invitational in Newport Beach, Calif. and established their credentials as the top high school team in the East by winning the New England/Mid-Atlantic Invitational tournament title at the McDonogh School in Maryland.

And while Haverford School is strong at the top of the lineup with reigning co-Players of the Year Ben and Zach Lieb playing singles, it is the strength up and down the lineup, particularly in doubles, that made Antonio Fink’s team so formidable this spring.

There was a singles title up for grabs Tuesday and Ben and Zach Lieb breezed into the final, but did not play for the title. The Penn State-bound pair have always said they don’t want to play against one another and they stuck to that, although they did walk away with the Inter-Ac’s sportsmanship award. The team title went to Haverford School, which piled up 26 points, with host Episcopal a distant second with 12 and Penn Charter third with nine.

This was a day to celebrate doubles and Haverford School, led by seniors Andrew Gushner and Nathan Kidambi, put the powerful foundation to its team success on display.

Gushner and Kidambi won the top-flight doubles title with an 8-2 victory over Episcopal Academy’s top two players, Callan O’Rourke and Woody Nimoiten. To get to the final, Gushner and Kidambi had to slug their way past teammates Connor Lees and Will McDevitt, both sophomores, 8-6, in the format which was a pro set, first to eight.

The format for the Inter-Ac tourney is tweaked from year to year, but it was the third straight year Gushner and Kidambi teamed up to win the top doubles title.

“It meant a lot to us to win this,’ Gushner, who is headed for Tulane University, said after two tough wins as the heat and humidity climbed in the mid-afternoon sun. “I’m pretty sure we’re the first team to three-peat at first doubles.’

Gushner and Kidambi weren’t always together this year, their doubles prowess making them just as valuable helping another teammate along as opposed to the overkill that their partnership had become. But they always knew they were part of something special this spring.

“We knew we would have a really, really good team this year,’ said Kidambi, who is headed for Penn’s Wharton School of Business, where maybe he’ll try to walk on to the tennis team.

In California, Haverford School lost only to Menlo School of Atherton, Calif., widely considered the top scholastic team in the country, and settled for a 4-4 tie with the Harvard-Westlake School of Los Angeles. It was also an opportunity for team bonding that was put to good use.

“The California trip brought us a lot closer together as a team,’ Gushner said. “The competition out there was just a lot better. When we came back, we had to win NEMA and cement our spot as the top team in the East.’

The last match Tuesday decided the B flight doubles title and it pitted two Haverford School teams with senior Jackson Simon and junior Andrew Clark pulling out an 8-6 win over John Walsh and Benji Bacharach. Walsh, a talented freshman, often played third singles for the Fords this season.

When Haverford School completed its perfect run through the Inter-Ac with a 7-0 win over Penn Charter last week, Clark teamed with Connor Lees, the sophomore who fell to Gushner and Kidambi in the A flight semifinals Tuesday, and Simon and Bacharach formed the third doubles team.

Any way you wanted to put them together this spring, this group at The Haverford School always formed a winning combination.

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