WESTPORT — When Kris Hrisovulos took over the Staples boys tennis program in 2010, he had in mind two main philosophies.
The first was preparation, and the second, something which has come to epitomize the Wreckers’ success, was the concept of team.
“Teamwork, team unity, teammates,” Hrisovulos said. “Those are important factors when you have a lot of talent and you’re trying to keep them engaged.”
That’s not always easy when dealing with what is essentially a one- or two-player sport, but Staples has used that concept to create a dynasty.
With a 7-0 shutout of Ludlowe on Tuesday, the Wreckers wrapped up a 15-0 regular season and enter the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the FCIAC and Class LL. Staples has dropped just 10 individual matches this season.
Staples will host No. 16 Bridgeport Central in Thursday’s FCIAC opening round. If they keep winning, the Wreckers will have home matches for the quarterfinals (May 18) and semifinals (May 20), with the title match on May 25 in Wilton.
In the states, the jamboree-style format is out, replaced by team match-ups.
“Everyone’s been waiting for this for years,” Hrisovulos said. “It’s been a close vote for going to the dual format. I liked the whole jamboree feeling in the beginning, but (for us) playing a lot of home matches is a plus.”
The Wreckers have a .955 winning percentage in 10 seasons under Hrisovulos, going 210-10 with six state and five FCIAC championships.
They lost to Darien in the 2019 FCIAC final, however, and that defeat still stings.
“Our returning players have used that juice of losing the FCIAC,” junior Tighe Brunetti, the Wreckers’ No. 1 singles player, said. “We’re definitely in a good place. It’s obviously great to be on a winning team, but hopefully we can keep that up throughout FCIACs and states.”
Brunetti and junior Robert Daus were a smash hit as freshmen in 2019, teaming up to win the Class LL and State Open doubles championships.
This year, Brunetti is 8-0 while playing in the top slot, with Daus, who has played a majority of matches at No. 2 singles, is 7-1. Junior Brandon Felcher is 10-0 playing matches at No. 2 and 3 singles.
Staples is captained by seniors Lucas Haymes and Bradley Sheppard.
Coming off a canceled 2020 season, it was difficult to know what to expect this spring, but the Wreckers were at an advantage with a large corp of veterans.
“We knew how our team was going to be but we were unsure about other teams,” Brunetti said. “There’s a lot of good teams in the FCIACs, and not a lot of returning players, so a lot of new kids. Now, we’ve all figured it out and put it all together.”
In addition to the team leadership, Hrisovulos said playing some of the strongest competition early in the schedule may have helped. In the first 16 days, the Wreckers faced Darien, Wilton, New Canaan, Warde and Greenwich, all teams in the top six of the FCIAC standings.
Brunetti gives the Wreckers an edge in the No. 1 spot. He’s dropped just one set in eight matches, coming from behind to beat Warde’s Petro Kuzmenok 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Last week, he defeated Norwalk’s Prem Dave 6-4, 6-3.
Brunetti, Dave and Kuzmenok are the FCIAC’s top three singles players, and should be contenders for the State Open singles crown next month.
Hrisovulos said Brunetti’s strength is his versatility.
“He’s an intuitive player and can pick up on game plans,” Hrisovulos said. “Tighe brings all the parts of the game. He can play big, he can grind, and he can play aggressive and come forward. He’s super competitive and a super athlete, so those different styles match up well at the top of the FCIAC.”
“I’ve trained with Prem since I was younger, so I’ve known him for a while, and I’ve played them both on the USTA circuits so much,” Brunetti said of Dave and Kuzmenok. “So I’m used to practicing with them and playing them in tournaments. It’s a different setting than high school tennis, but it’s still the same competition.”
Staples had won four straight FCIAC titles before finishing as the runner-up in 2019, and the Wreckers are hoping to bring that crown back to Westport.
“The kids are ready. Redemption is always tough,” Hrisovulos said. “We beat Darien in the regular season (in 2019) and they came back strong and won the FCIAC title on us in a great match. There’s some good new teams like Wilton and Warde who present issues, but hopefully our leadership can keep it up.”
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