The Millionaires swept the doubles matches and got singles wins from Rory Lenehan and Rihana Patel to earn a 4-1 win over Lee and claim the regional crown.
The win gives Lenox (16-1) a shot of momentum heading into next week’s Division 5 state tournament, where it is seeded fifth in the commonwealth – one of three Berkshire County squads, along with Lee and Mount Greylock, in the top half of the D5 draw.
It also helps erase the memory of how last year’s Western Mass tourney ended.
“This one, honestly, means so much,” senior Patel said. “After coming here last year, and we lost, for us being able to come back, with the same team, with the same girls, and be able to win – especially in Lee – it’s a big one, for sure.”
Patel was the first one off the court on Sunday, earning a 6-0, 6-0 win at second singles.
The clinching matches came from Lenox’s doubles tandems.
At No. 1, Nichole Illingsworth and Katie Shove won in straight sets. And then Gali Gomez and Charlie Keator followed suit at second doubles.
“Our first doubles team has only lost one match all season long,” Lenox coach Monica Herman said. “And they went to the [Western Mass] individuals tournament semi-finals. They only lost once, and that was here at Lee about a month ago.
“Our second doubles was losing a few times at the beginning of the season, and the second half of the season, I’m not sure we lost at all. So our doubles pairings are really good. Across the board, we have a strong lineup … Most of our matches, we’ve won, 4-1 or 5-0. We’ve only won one match that was 3-2.”
After Lenox built an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the team competition, just the first and third singles matches remained on the court.
Given the team score and the temperature, the coaches agreed to decide each in a super tie-breaker if the players split the first two sets.
At No. 3, Lee’s Sophie Herman came back from a 6-2 loss in the first set to take the second, 6-4. She then went on to take the tie-breaker, 10-8.
At first singles, Lee’s Lenehan earned a service break down 5-6 in the second set to keep the set alive and then took that set with a 7-4 win in the tie-breaker to prevail, 6-1, 7-6.
“She is, obviously, a really strong player,” Coach Herman said of Lenehan. “She’s mentally very tough this year. Last year, as a seventh-grader, she was physically tough but young and not not mentally as tough.
“She’s really snapped into gear with the mental aspect of it. She never gives up as a result and really digs in when it needs to be dug in and wins as a result. She has a great record. For first singles to have as good of a record as she does, it’s hard. First singles is really hard. She has, I think, a 75 percent win rate in first singles, which is really good.”
And, like several of the Millionaires, Lenehan still is really young.
“We have five middle schoolers on our starting varsity squad, so building up and developing the middle schoolers so they can be here year after year as been what’s really helped,” Herman said. “We’re losing two strong seniors [Patel and Georgia Raser], who played second and third singles all year. But we have a bunch of middle schoolers who are ready to step in next year.
“I think having stronger, younger players has benefited us.”
Lenox also has benefited from a strong presence for the sport in South County.
“I’m relatively new to the Berkshires, but it’s nice to see the Berkshires’ tennis being as strong as it is, because a couple of coaches told me it didn’t used to be that strong,” Coach Herman said. “I think it’s growing and developing. Clare Lahey, or Bunny’s Lee CTA program has really helped. I’m actually the tennis director for that program over the summer, so I also teach all these [Lee] kids.”
Those Wildcats will join Lee’s Millionaires and Mount Greylock’s Mounties in the D5 state tournament. Mount Greylock, which lost to Lee in the Western Mass semi-finals, is seeded right behind Lenox at No. 6; Lee is seeded 14th.
Lee is scheduled to open play in the Round of 32 against Archbishop Williams of Braintree on a date to be announced. Lenox and Mount Greylock await the winners of play-in matches scheduled for Wednesday to find out who they will face in the Round of 32.
Whoever it is, the Millionaires will go to the state tourney a little more prepared after battling Lee on Sunday.
“I think it’s a really good practice run, having a big crowd and being able to deal with it and still play our game is definitely something that our team can do really well,” Patel said. “I’m really proud of them for that.”
Photos from this match to come.
No. 1 Rory Lenehan, Lnx, def. Anna Martin, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4).
No. 2 Rihana Patel, Lnx, def. Amy Desiata, 6-0, 6-0.
No. 3 Sophie Herman, Lee, def. Georgia Rasier, 2-6, 6-4, 1-0 (10-8).
No. 1 Nicole Illingsworth/Katie Shove, Lnx, def. Annie Herman/Shae Kelly, 6-3, 6-3.
No. 2 Gali Gomez/Charlie Keator, Lnx, def. Maddie Haywood/Sophia Puntin, 6-3, 6-2.