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Div. 1 state tennis: Lexington’s reign ends

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Newton, MA – SJ Prep’s John Deangelis in his tennis match against Lexington’s Ronan Wakhlu. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

NEWTON – There will be new state champions in Div. 1 Boys and Girls Tennis.

Lexington took both titles in 2023, but St. John’s Prep secured a 4-1 semifinal victory on the boy’s side while Wellesley took a tight 3-2 victory on the girl’s side to advance to the state championships.

This ended the two-year stranglehold that the Minutewomen had on Div. 1 girls Tennis, and Wellesley coach Rob Miller said his team needed elite execution to do that.

“To beat the state champs is unbelievable,” Miller said. “Everyone played well, it’s a team effort. Now we have to win on Saturday.”

Wellesley secured wins in first and second doubles and also a withdrawal victory in second singles after Lexington’s Mia McCandless retired with an injury.

“It’s unfortunate about second singles,” Miller said. “She’s a really nice kid, and it easily could have happened to us.”

The first-doubles victory was the swing match, as it ended in three sets and the other four matches had all concluded earlier. Lexington jumped out to a 6-2 first set victory, and quickly led 3-0 in the second set. However, twins Shannon and Shae Wellburn had no intention of bowing out easily.

The twins stormed back and kept it close but did face match point in that second set. At that moment, it was about simple execution.

“Just get the ball in,” Shannon Wellburn said. “Keep hitting it into the court and wait for an opportunity to take the point.”

The duo would rally and force the deciding third set, where they cruised to a 6-1 victory.

“It’s a little nerve-racking,” Shae Wellburn said. “We’ve done that a lot throughout the season and we know what to do. We know to stick to the basics and don’t do anything crazy. That’s what we did today, and it worked out.”

On the boy’s side, St. John’s Prep had a lot on the line. The team fell short in the same round against the same opponent in 2023, and the Eagles had not reached the State Final as a program since 2001. With this in mind, St. John’s Prep was locked in.

“We wanted to avenge the loss from last year’s semifinals,” Eagles coach Mark Metropolis said. “We knew they were a good team; we knew we had to practice hard. If we didn’t bring our ‘a game’ today, they would have beat us.”

This started with quick wins from first-and-second singles and wins in third singles and first doubles served as the security blanket.

“Beating them in the semis this year feels good,” Eagles second singles player Jack Prokopis said. “It’s because of all of the work we’ve put in. All the time we have grinded in the offseason, and this season, has made the difference.”

Last year’s run to the semifinal served as a motivator for the team to advance further this season, as the Eagles had been so close to reaching the state final. Luke Prokopis of the first doubles pair said that helped St. John’s Prep be more ready to grasp it this time around.

“Experience definitely played a factor,” Luke Prokopis said. “Last year going in, we didn’t really know what to expect. The experiences, the losses and learning from those losses, that all came together today.”

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