In these ever-changing times of high school sports, when student-athletes choose to excel at one sport rather than competing in multiple ones, teams like the Bernards High School boys tennis stand out on the NJSIAA scene.
The Mountaineers boys soccer team, which won a Group 2 state title in 2019 and then went unbeaten in 2021 during the shortened COVID-19 year to bring home a Central West A crown, lost just once in this academic year, and went out in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 final on penalty kicks.
The loss stung.
But three of the players on that team have another state title to celebrate today, along with outgoing Head Coach Pat McMillan. The Mountaineers knocked off Glen Rock 4-1 to win the NJSIAA Group 1 boys tennis championship Friday at Mercer County Park, to put things right.
It was the first state title in 40 years for the Bernards (20-5) boys tennis team, made in large part because of the play of three soccer players, who also happen to be excellent tennis players. In smaller schools, for teams to hang banners, that is what it often takes: multi-sport stars playing, and winning, for the team.
Drew Elliott closed out the title for Bernards at third singles with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Steve Zharov. But that only came after Fin Spitaleri and Neal Chaayanath won in straight sets at first doubles for the Mountaineers, while James Kolvites and Deven Gandhi also won in straight sets at second doubles.
Three courts, three wins, and another state title for Elliott, Spitaleri, and Kolvites.
“It really is amazing,” Elliott said. “We have been waiting for my whole high school career for this. We missed the COVID year, but the two other years we lost in the sectional finals. It was great to finally win that, and then come out here today and finish the job.
“We have three seniors, and three soccer players, and I really think that our loss in penalties allowed us to carry that determination over to this tennis season. We have already won two soccer state titles, it was really nice to bring a tennis one to Bernards, because it has been 40 years.”
The two doubles’ teams have cut a swath of destruction through this tournament, dominating opponents from start to finish. It was the same today, as they dropped just five games in the four combined sets.
“It was our coach’s last year, so we really wanted to win this,” Chaayanath said. “It is also the final year for our seniors, so we really wanted to win this. We upped our game this year.”
“This is going to give us some bigger aspirations going into next year,” Gandhi said.
For Kolvites and Spitaleri, winning has become second nature: they will both be back in the fold next year for the state-ranked soccer program, and now the state champion tennis program. Winning does not grow old, though: it just breeds more success.
“Last year, we lost in the sectionals, and all four of the doubles players are underclassmen,” Spitaleri said. “We moved to Group 1, but the tennis court is still the same size; we got better as a team and got it done.”
“We knew it was wrapped up once we saw the first doubles win,” Kolvites said. “But we wanted a 6-0 in the second set and we got that. Good result for us.”
Next up for Bernards is the Tournament of Champions next week, while Glen Rock ends the season at 15-7 as the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 1 sectional champions.
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