Adult tennis team with local ties headed to nationals

  • The 4.0 men’s 18-and-over team out of Algonquin Tennis Club and captained by Concord’s Todd Toler poses after winning the Sectional Championships in Easthampton, Mass., on Aug. 19 to qualify for the National Championships, which will be held Oct. 5-7 in Arlington, Texas. The team members pictured above (from left to right) are Rohit Yerram, Alex Mezibov, Noah Sullivan, Kiran Humagai, Gary Roberts, Dan Watson, Dave Page, Eric Morrow, Robert J. Starace, Toler and Zack Gould. Team members not pictured are Adam Hirshan, Mark Parquette, Dan Horan, Mark Hamilton, Rick DePasquale, Neal Burns, Aidan Connor and Bob Bondaruk. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 9/27/2018 8:47:02 PM

Before it finished as the best 18-and-over men’s 4.0 tennis team in the state, and before it beat all the other top teams in New England to qualify for the United States Tennis Association nationals in Texas next month, Concord’s Todd Toler believed his team had the goods.

“I’ve been saying since day one this is the team that can do it, this is the team that can go to nationals,” said Toler, the team’s captain. “Everyone was teasing me at the beginning and telling me not to jinx it, but I fully felt this team had the chance to go this far and it has.”

There are men’s and women’s USTA leagues throughout the country that are organized by skill level. To give some context, someone holding a racket on a court for the first time is a 1.0, while a pro-level player is a 6.0-7.0. Most adult-league teams are found between 3.5 and 4.5, with 4.0 (considered a high-intermediate) having the most teams. Team events consist of two singles matches and three doubles matches.

After a regular season that lasts about six months, the top teams from each state advance to play in district tournaments. The district winners play each other at sectionals, and the sectional winners go to nationals.

“For recreational players, the nationals are the ultimate goal, and a lot of people never get there,” said Dave Page, the Concord High boys’ tennis coach who is also a member of Toler’s 4.0 team. “We were at sectionals and one guy on our team (Gary Roberts of Sunapee) said, ‘I’ve been playing team tennis for 25 years and I’ve never gone until now.’ So everyone was very happy, very excited to make it this far.”

Page has been playing league tennis since 2000 and went to nationals in 2006 with a 4.5 team that included players with Concord connections like Blake Wayman and Dave Taylor. Page also reached the nationals of the USTA tri-level competition (a format with just one doubles position) in 2014 with Toler and former Bow High player Kevin Phelps.

Page knows how hard it is to advance through the state and region. He was one of the voices telling Toler, who has been playing on USTA teams for 13 years, not to get ahead of himself with the early-season predictions.

“We knew we had a good team,” Page said, “but I think it’s always hard to predict or say, ‘We’re going to go this far.’ But we definitely knew that we had a couple key components.”

Those components were depth and youth, which were the same things that had Toler so optimistic at the beginning of the season. Some teams have only eight or nine players, but Toler constructed a 19-person roster that helped eliminate availability problems during the regular season and fatigue problems during the postseason, where teams often have to play two matches in one day.

Knowing the top teams in the country usually have younger players in the singles positions, Toler recruited 2017 high school graduates Aidan Connor (Concord), Noah Sullivan (Inter-Lakes) and Zack Gould (Bedford) and 2018 graduate Rohit Yerram (Bedford) for his team, which plays out of the Algonquin Tennis Club in Hooksett.

Connor won the NHIAA doubles title in 2016 with Justin Toler, Todd’s son. Gould was the 2017 boys’ singles champ and part of four Division I team championships at Bedford. Yerram was the boys’ singles runner-up in 2018 and helped Bedford win its ninth-straight D-I title in ’18. And Sullivan, with his heavy, dominating forehand, was the best of that young group.

“All of the young guys were instrumental, and it would have been a long shot for us to win at sectionals without those guys,” Toler said. “But if I had to say who was the team MVP, it would have to be Noah Sullivan. He was the shining star, for sure.”

Unfortunately for the team, Sullivan can not play at nationals, which runs from Oct. 5-7 in Arlington, Texas. Sullivan just enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University and will play on the Penmen’s men’s tennis team, and NCAA rules say he is not eligible to compete at the USTA event. That’s a blow, but Toler’s team will still believe in itself when it gets to Texas.

“We’ve taken it farther than most teams from New Hampshire ever have, and we’re not just happy to be there,” Page said. “I mean, we’re thrilled that we’ve made it to nationals, but we’re not going to go there just happy to be there, we’re going to try to do some damage.”

That confidence blossomed for the entire team Aug. 3-5 at the District Championships, which were played in two locations – Ludlow, Mass., and Enfield, Conn. They went 4-0 as a team, winning 17 matches and losing just three in a round-robin format against teams from Vermont, Eastern Connecticut, Western Massachusetts and the second-place New Hampshire team out of the Hampshire Hills Athletic Club in Milford.

“We rolled over our competition,” Toler said. “When we walked out of districts, we did more than prove to ourselves that this team can go the whole way. We came out of it with a boatload of confidence.”

That confidence helped at sectionals, where the players needed every edge. They won all three matches against district winners from Maine, Rhode Island and Eastern Massachusetts, but all three were by 3-2 scores. The key match may have come on the first day when Toler and Yerram lost the first set at third doubles, but pulled out the win with the team’s match, and season, hanging in the balance against a tough team from Lakeville, Mass.

“That really gave us a sense that if we can beat that team, anything is possible,” Page said.

“The best part about that match was Rohit and I laughed the whole time,” Toler said. “We were telling jokes and doing whatever just to keep things light and easy.”

Playing with younger players comes easily to Toler because he’s spent so time around them – he was the Bow High boys’ tennis coach from 2008-10 and has been an assistant on the Concord High team with Page for the last six years. The kind of camaraderie Toler and Yerram shared in that key doubles match extends throughout the entire team.

“It’s really a wonderful group,” Toler said. “When you get us all together there’s a lot of smiles and laughs and very little friction.”

That group also includes current Concord residents Alex Mezibov, former Concord resident Adam Hirshan and Epsom’s Neal Burn, as well as Kiran Humagai, Dan Watson, Eric Morrow, Robert Starace, Mark Parquette, Dan Horan, Mark Hamilton, Rick DePasquale and Bob Bondaruk.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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