Friendly Rivalries Headline 2018 Junior Sectionals
James Maimonis, Communications and Engagement Coordinator | June 28, 2018
NEW HAVEN & WEST HAVEN, CT- New England Junior Sectionals showcases the best of the best in junior tennis in New England over a grueling five-day tournament. Each year, the event is flooded with incredible storylines, renewed rivalries and unforgettable memories, and 2018 was just par for the course. The top New England juniors competed at the Connecticut Tennis Center and the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center, both at Yale University from June 22-26, for their shot at achieving the highest level of success in their age division in New England.
From first-time matchups and longtime doubles partners squaring off to epic four-hour battles and continued family traditions, this year’s Sectional Championships had no shortage of drama. Players train and compete all year to achieve peak performance at Sectionals, and for eight spectacular talents, their dreams became a reality on June 26, as they were crowned New England Junior Sectional Champions.
Read about this year’s Sectional Champions:
Boys’ 18s- Daniel Milavsky, Needham, MA
In his fifth career Sectionals appearance, Daniel Milavsky was more determined than ever to win his first Sectional Title. Coming off a 2017 loss in the finals in the 16s division, the 16-year-old Milavsky relied on his fitness, mental toughness and improved decision making to break through this year in the 18s.
“It’s an awesome feeling. I’ve had so many tough matches, especially back to back in the semis and finals, so winning for the first time is amazing,” Milavsky said.
In his opening match, it took the No. 2 seeded Milavsky three sets to get past Andres Ballesteros, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. He then defeated 2016 16s Champ Isaac Gorelik in the quarters, 6-3, 6-1. Milavsky went on to play a combined 6 ½ hours worth of tennis in his final two matches which included three-set wins against Andrew Ilie in the semifinals and Even Felcher in the finals.
Milavsky played from behind for the majority of his three-hour finals marathon. After going down a set early in his first ever singles matchup with Felcher, he battled back to win the second, 6-2. He then found himself in a 3-5 hole in the third but broke Felcher and held serve twice each on his way to four straight games and the championship.
“I really wanted to win, and I was going to do whatever it took,” Milavsky said. “It was difficult to battle back, as we had extremely long points. I was running from side to side, and so was he, and every point seemed like it was going on forever. I kept going for my shots, kept loose and eventually I came out on top.”
Earlier this year, Milavsky finished sixth at Winter Nationals, took home a Bronze Ball at the Easter Bowl and reached the finals of an L2.
“Winning Sectionals means so much to me; it’s the biggest tournament in New England. Now I’m looking forward to great summer.”
Girls’ 18s- Page Freeman, Ashland, MA
The No. 2 seed in the Girls’ 18s division, Page Freeman, breezed through her first three matches, dropping just four total games on her way to the final. After defeating Kayla Leschly, 6-1, 6-0 in the semifinals, she awaited the winner of the other semifinal which featured 2017 16s winner Eleanor Schulson and defending 18s champion, Lana Mavor. Mavor outlasted Schulson in a four-hour classic, setting up a 2017 semifinals rematch, in which Mavor got the better of Freeman.
“I was definitely psyched going in. We had a pretty good battle last year, and I came up just short, and you definitely always want to bring it for the finals and I knew I had to do just that,” Freeman said.
In another unforgettable matchup between the top two seeds, Freeman got off to a bit of a “shaky start,” dropping the first set 3-6.
“I got pretty nervous at the beginning and pressed a little bit too much,” she said. “It definitely wasn’t the start I wanted, but I knew if I just kept being aggressive and do what I do best, I could win.”
Freeman dominated the second set 6-1, setting up a classic third-set showdown on the “Stadium Court.”
After going up three games to two, Freeman took the next two and saw herself a game away from the championship. Mavor broke Freeman to make it 3-5, but that’s the closest she’d come to a repeat, as an apparent injury forced her to retire and surrender the crown to Freeman.
“I think I played my game really well (in the finals), and that was the difference form last year to this year. I knew I could pick it up in the second set and was going to make her work for it and kept fighting. We’re both great competitors and both want to win and play back and forth, but it was my day today,” Freeman said.
The win for Freeman marks the third straight and four total for her family. Her older brother, Max, captured the 18s title both in 2016 and 2017 and won his first in the 16s in 2014.
“Max did great at Sectionals and we both work really hard and I just wanted to get one of those wins too. I know he’s proud of me, so it’s an amazing feeling,” she said.
“This was the most important tournament for Page and she’s been preparing all year,” said her coach, Bryce Warren. “She strung together some really good matches to prepare for her tough test in the finals, and I’m proud the way she fought and finished that third set on a high note. She’s always been motivated and that makes my job easier. She’s the hardest worker we have.”
Click here to watch a video interview with Freeman following her Sectionals win.
Boys’ 16s- Walker Oberg, Weston, MA
Oberg was the lone repeat winner at Sectionals, as he captured the 14s title last year and took home the Boys’ 16s championship this year. The No. 5 seeded Oberg, who has had a rough go against some of his higher seeded 16s foes, strung together the run of his life and even shocked himself in New Haven.
“I didn’t think I was going to do it but it feels really good,” the 15-year-old said. “I felt good coming in, and the draw opened up a little bit and just took advantage of it.”
Three out of the top four seeds had been eliminated by the quarterfinals, setting Oberg up with more favorable (yet still challenging) matchups against unseeded Terrence McGrath and No. 7 Casey Kania before squaring off against No. 3 Matthew Campbell in the finals.
“I’d never beaten Matthew before or some of the other top players, and I really don’t have a winning record against many of the seeds. I knew things were going to be tough, and I could have lost at any point,” Oberg said. “When I play Matt, I usually let him back in the match, and I did that a little bit again, but I got myself together and closed it out.”
Oberg went up 5-2 in the first set and Campbell battled back to make it 5-4, but Oberg was too strong on this day. He closed out the set, 6-4, and took the second 6-2 en route to the championship.
Girls’ 16s- Iris Gallo, Longmeadow, MA
Iris Gallo defeated the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the semifinals and finals respectively to notch her second Sectionals Title in three years. Gallo won the 14s title in 2016 and became the new 16s champ on Tuesday. The No. 3 seeded Gallo took down top seed, Jennifer Riester, 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 to earn a finals matchup with friend, teammate and doubles partner, Nastasya Semenovski.
“It feels great. She’s really tough and we’re pretty close, but it’s great to win at the end. It was a tough match throughout because at any moment you could be doing well, or you could be down, so trying to stay focused the whole time and making sure she couldn’t come back, was the most difficult thing for me,” Gallo said.
Gallo defeated her part-time doubles partner and former Zonals and future Intersectionals teammate in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3. For Semenovski, it was her second consecutive finals appearance, as she fell to Eleanor Schulson in 2017.
Gallo finished fourth last year in the 16s draw, and knowing she still has what it takes to be right back on top is what excites her most.
“It’s great knowing that that I can still do this. After winning in 14s, you wonder if you can still do it, so I’m just happy I was able to come away on top after a tough tournament.”
Boys’ 14s- Azariah Rusher, Amherst, NH
It’s been a long road to the top for the 13-year-old from Amherst, NH. Azariah Rusher reached the Sectional finals in the 12s in 2016 but was forced to retire in the second set after injuring his leg on an overhead shot. Then, six months later, the same overhead mishap led him to break his patella, forcing him to miss eight months of action.
“I’m still trying to process it, really, I don’t know how it happened. It’s been uphill battle since then, training and finding my form again,” Rusher said. “Winning is a good feeling, and I’m happy that I did it finally. My shoulder and back are sore now, so I’ll take a break and rest up for a bit before I get back to playing.”
The No. 3 seeded Rusher’s tournament began against defending 12s champions Petro Kuzmenok, whom he defeated in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1. He then took down the No. 6 seed, Jayanth Devaiah, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Tighe Brunetti, 6-1, 6-1 in the semis. All that stood in his way of completing his road to recovery was the tall, powerful, No. 8 seed, Luc Piacentini, who was fresh off an upset against top-seeded Dylan Koziol.
Piacentini took the first set with relative ease, 6-3, and appeared to have gotten the best of Rusher this time around.
“It was really tough out there, and after I went down, I thought to my coach, I didn’t play well, this guy beat me fair and square,” Rusher recalled.
But something clicked for him in the second set, as he fought the grueling heat outside and off the racquet of Piacentini. Rusher took Piacentini to a tiebreak and held him off 7-6(5) despite a late surge.
Rusher found himself in an early hole to start the third set after being penalized a game for returning to the court late, but that didn’t get the determined scrapper down. He fought for every ball, even returning consecutive shots in a rally from the back fence.
“With a big game like his, I knew I had to get used to it and knew he could miss every once in awhile. He let me back in the second and then I started to find my game,” Rusher said. “After returning and getting penalized, it just made me want to win more, so I came out there with a fighting attitude and didn’t let up on any point, got to every ball and tried for everything. It was a miracle I was able to win that last game and beat him.
Rusher won the third set, 6-4, capping off a 3 ½ hour thriller.
Girls 14s- Madeleine Swire, Sudbury, MA
Practice makes perfect for Madeleine Swire, who took a few months off from tournaments this past spring to work on her forehand. She changed her grip, and in only her second tournament back, she defeated last year’s 12s champion, Violet Robbins for her first Sectionals Championship. Swire reached the championship of the 12s draw in 2016 but faced a second-round exit last year.
“I am really happy to win this year. After losing in the finals two years ago, getting this opportunity to come back in the 14s and win is amazing,” she said. Losing last year in the second round wasn’t great, but I’ve gotten a lost stronger mentally and I’ve worked very hard lately, and it’s definitely helped me.”
The No. 6 seed, Swire picked up wins against Augusta Beveridge, No. 3 Caroline Driscoll and Alexandra Prudente before squaring off with Robbins. It was about the longest a two-set match could last, spanning nearly three hours with both competitor putting everything on the line.
“Violet is always tough. I played her two weeks ago and lost in three sets, so I knew coming in it was going to be a difficult match,” Swire said. “She’s always intense and plays well and never drops her level. She played well today, but I played just well enough to win. I definitely played at my very best today.”
Swire went on to win the match, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Boys’ 12s- Matisse Farzam, Norwalk, CT
In hands down the most emotional final of the tournament, No. 2 Matisse Farzam defeated his friend and doubles partner, top seed, Kaiaitz Mendibe, in three hours. With tears pouring down the cheeks of both players following the match, Farzam hopped the net and embraced Mendibe.
“(Kaiaitz) is a very nice kid and a great competitor, and he definitely brought the best out of me today,” Farzam said. “I felt bad because he was upset after he played an amazing match, and we both kept fighting and playing our best tennis.”
Down a set and 0-3 in the second, Farzam never wavered. He stuck to his game and knew he had to turn it up if he wanted to dig out of the hole he got himself into.
“I really had to be mentally positive and couldn’t get down on myself, keep fighting and pushing and believe I was going to win the match,” the 11-year-old Farzam said. “He’s beaten me five times and I didn’t want to lose a sixth, so this time, especially losing, I had to pick it up and my game just started to excel. Most of my shots were a lot deeper, I used lots of angles and tried to change it up a bit.”
Farzam went on to win the second set, 6-4 and the third, 6-0, to clinch the victory.
Farzam cruised through his previous rounds, winning 6-0, 6-0; 6-1, 6-3; and 6-2, 6-2 in the round of 16, quarters and semis respectively.
Girls’ 12s- Ava Esposito, Branford, CT
Ava Esposito earned the first championship of the tournament, capturing the Girls’ 12s title against doubles partner Brooklyn Bindas.
“It’s pretty cool. You work all year to come to this tournament and winning it is amazing. It’s like nothing you would’ve thought of when you started tennis,” Esposito said.
The No. 2 seeded Esposito battled back from a set down in her semifinal match with No. 4 Skylar Jara, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, to earn the right to face No 3. Bindas in the final. Bindas was coming off a semifinal win against top seed, Isabella Camacho.
It was the first time the friends had squared off, in singles competition, and the feeling was a bit unusual for Esposito.
“She’s a great competitor, we’re doubles partners, and we know how each other plays better than anyone, so it was a pretty good match,” Espositio said.
Esposito won the match in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2. Previously this spring, Esposito won two L4s and two L5s, and she now begins her summer with a Sectional Title.
For full New England Junior Sectionals results, click here.
To view photos of the 2018 winners, click here.