Mandulapali buries a volley into the ad court.Photos by James Kinneen
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
As the number six seed, Walpole’s tennis team was supposed to be handily beaten by the number two seeded Duxbury Dragons.
But, powered by the consistent dominance of first singles player Sid Vandrangi and a surprisingly strong effort from freshman Jake Lowenstein, the Rebels took out the Dragons to move on to the D2 South Finals, where they’d face the number one seed Hopkinton Hillers.
Vandrangi is a borderline automatic win, and the Duxbury match would be no different. After dominating his opponent en route to a 6-2 first set, he outclassed and bageled the poor kid, 6-0, to mercifully end the match.
That wasn’t especially surprising. What was surprising was how good freshman Jake Lowenstein looked. In a grueling match in which both players hammered at each other from the baseline for extended forehand-to-forehand rallies, Lowenstein came up with clutch shot after clutch shot. After dealing with a persistent fly that buzzed around his face for almost the entirety of the first set, Lowenstein hit a couple nice forehand passes when his opponent tried to be more aggressive, taking the first set, 6-4.
In the second set, Lowenstein was trying to serve for the match at 5-4, when he quickly dug himself into a 0-40 hole. With Varun Mandulapali struggling in the court next door - which added more pressure to the situation - Lowenstein took advantage of a shanked volley into the net at 30-40 and stormed back to take the game and the match 6-4, 6-4 on a forehand winner.
After the match, Coach Shawn Gough singled out the freshman for the level of maturity he displayed.
“The biggest match, the big upset, was Jake Lowenstein in third singles winning in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4. We thought that was going to be the dogfight - we were hoping to get the win in number two singles out of Varun; he went down 6-3, 7-5 - which brings it to Jake, and he’s a freshman. For a freshman to pull out a third point for us in a sectional semifinal is just incredible and shows how much he matured over the year. He’s had some tough matches, some really emotional roller-coaster rides, but to pull that out over an upperclassman shows the kind of heart he’s developed over the year.”
But it wasn’t just the young guns carrying the Rebels to victory. Coach Gough noted that his veteran doubles team played better than they ever have, en route to a straight-sets victory.
“Our first doubles team of Jack Moses and Dan Colbert played out of their minds today. It was the best I’ve seen them play in three years for Dan, and four years for Jack.”
Maybe the craziest thing of all about the Rebels’ run is that they’re doing it all without one of their senior captains. Harry Katsaros and his family go to Greece every summer and booked the trip for this year, unaware the MIAA had pushed the season back to later than it had been in years past.
“We’re missing one of our guys, Harry Katsaros, he’s in Greece,” explained Coach Gough. “There’s nothing we can do about that trip, but the guy that filled in is Nathan Shnaider. He’s been playing great for us, too - he’s a great athlete, a really good cross-country runner, and his game is rising.”
With the team on such a roll and having tested itself against such good teams throughout the year, Coach Gough saw no reason why they shouldn’t be confident heading into the match against Hopkinton.
“A lot of the reason why I think we’re here is because coming out of the Bay State, we play such a difficult schedule and our record doesn’t usually reflect the quality of player that we have. We typically get a tough draw where we have to play Duxbury in the first round, but this year having a couple of matches where we were obviously the better team, I think really kind of raised our hopes, expectations and confidence. As a result of that, we played absolutely awesome today. We’ve never been this far. We’ve never been to a south sectional final, and just knowing we’re playing Hopkinton, going into that match, I have to believe we’re at the top of our game right now. I know Hopkinton is, too, but I just have to hope our peak is a little bit higher than their’s. But, going into it, I like our chances.”
And they should have liked their chances.
They beat Hopkinton 3-2 to move on to states before finally falling to Concord-Carlisle, 4-1, in the Division 2 Championship.