By Rich DePreta
NEW HAVEN — For the players, it was about legacy.
For Westhill High School boys tennis, it was about tradition.
But most of all, it was about unfinished business Wednesday afternoon at the State Open doubles championship final at the Yale University outdoor courts.
In 2013 as juniors, Westhill’s Prashant Toteja and Alex Romaine advanced to the State Open doubles final only to be vanquished by Ridgefield.
In 2014 as seniors, Toteja and Romaine successfully climbed that final mountain, outlasting Shaw Speer and Louis Mckenzie of Greenwich High, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 to become State Open doubles champions.
“Losing the State Open final last year was hard. But to win the Open double title in my senior year is awesome,” Romaine said. “Prashant was so solid throughout today.”
There wasn’t as much drama in the State Open singles final where Xavier freshman Rich Ciamarra defeated Staples’ Luke Foreman, 6-2, 6-2.
The State Open doubles final has been a personal project for the Westhill High boys tennis program throughout coach Patrik Vician’s seven-year tenure.
The Vikings have had seven pairs of regular season singles players turned dynamic doubles duos reach the State Open doubles final. Toteja and Romaine are the fifth set of Westhill State Open doubles champions.
“We are friends on and off the court,” Romaine said. “We have natural tennis chemistry.”
“We know instinctively how the other plays,” Toteja said. “I hit a lot of flat balls. Alex (a lefty) is all about spin shots.”
The triumph Wednesday also had some small seeds of revenge in it.
Greenwich’s senior pair of Speer and Mckenzie had ousted Toteja and Romaine in three sets in the Class LL doubles semifinals.
Romaine, who will play tennis at the University of Hartford in the fall, and Toteja, who will play at the University of Michigan, went back to work with Vician, who is part coach and tennis scientist.
“We had two practices a day before the State Open,” Vician said. “We changed almost everything from the first match against Greenwich because they are a great three-year doubles team. Last time we hit too many high balls in the middle. They beat us with lots of lobs. We tried to serve and volley too much.
“Our focus was to serve better. To return their serves better. And to hit a lot of flat, low balls since they’re hard to deal with,” Vician continued. “And we changed our formations nearly every point.”
The adjustments worked. The teams traded service breaks in Game 11 and 12 to forge a 6-6 first set deadlock. In the tiebreaker, Westhill jumped out 4-0. Greenwich fought back to tie it 5-5 before Westhill won two points for a 7-6 (7-5) win.
In the second set, Westhill broke serve In Game 5 for a 3-2 edge. Down 5-4, Greenwich broke back for 5-5.
But Westhill broke back for 6-5 and Toteja held serve through three deuces for the 7-5 title win.
“Shaw Speer (Colby College in fall) and Louis Mckenzie (UConn in fall) showed so much courage to get here in a long season,” said Greenwich High coach Rich Lane. “Shaw and Louis left everything on the court today. They have a lot to be proud of. It’s the culmination of four years work. It was a great performance of tennis and sportsmanship to have two FCIAC teams in the doubles final.
“Westhill was masterful beating Staples in the semifinals,” Lane continued. “And they were motivated by unfinished business today.”
It was a grand accomplishment for the Vikings. In the quarterfinals, they downed a Guilford High pair who hadn’t lost a set all season. In the semis, Toteja and Romaine defeated the Staples duo of Baxter Stein and Connor Mitnick. Those Wreckers were previously unbeaten in 2014, won the clinching point for Staples’ FCIAC title and won the LL doubles final over Greenwich, giving the Wreckers the LL team title.
“This is so sweet. So great for Alex and Prashant to do this as seniors,” Vician said. “They deserve this so much. I believe this is our hardest fought State Open doubles title in school history.”
As far as the singles final is concerned, Xavier’s Ciamarra continued his Cinderella run as a freshman, adding the Open crown to his Class LL title.
“I’m happy to make it this far. Rewarding to make the final,” said Foreman, who will play tennis at Washington University in the fall. “I played 3 ½ hours in my semifinal round win Tuesday. It was hard to recover. My legs were tired. But the bottom line is that Ciamarra is an unbelievable player. I can’t believe how much he’s improved in the last three months. His hands are great. He moves so well on court. His backhand is spectacular. He gets to every ball. That’s frustrating.”
Foreman was part of a historic Staples boys tennis team.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Foreman said. “We won FCIACs. We won Class LL. The team was undefeated. It’s the first time it’s happened at Staples since 1982. That’s a great way to go out as a senior.”
State Open Championships
At Yale University outdoor courts
Doubles final: Prashant Toteja/ Alex Romaine (Westhill) def. Shaw Speer/Louis Mckenzie (Greenwich), 7-6 (7-5), 7-5. Singles final: Rich Ciamarra (Xavier) def. Luke Foreman (Staples), 6-2, 6-2.