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HIGH SCHOOL TENNIS NOTEBOOK

With a shuffled lineup, Weston boys’ tennis has found another perfect combination

Max Ding (left) and Magnus Starrett has joined forces this season at No. 1 doubles for the unbeaten Weston boys' tennis team.Greg M. Cooper/Globe

The unbeaten Weston boys’ tennis team is an example of what can happen when players put the team ahead of self. Although the 13-0 Wildcats have plenty of top-end talent at singles, the team’s depth really shines through its first doubles pairing. There, sophomore Max Ding — who played No.1 singles last spring, teams up with classmate Magnus Starrett.

“When was the last time you saw an All-Scholastic go from No. 1 to first doubles?” Weston coach George Conlin asked, alluding to Ding, who went 18-0 at first singles last spring.

“That’s obviously a boost for us. And then Magnus, challenge match-wise, wasn’t that far off. I’d say both of those guys could legitimately play No. 1 [singles] for just about every team in the Dual County League, which is the strongest tennis in the state.”

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Between Ding’s move to first doubles and a shuffled singles lineup that features two veterans and a newcomer, the four-time state champion is in prime position to pad its dynasty and compete for a fifth title in June.

Senior captain Benny Gilligan made the leap from second to first singles. His younger brother Noah, a sophomore, is 11-0 at No. 2 despite playing in select doubles matches last spring because of a stress fracture in his wrist.

While Conlin acknowledged that Benny Gilligan and Noah’s older brother, Jacob, a 2020 Weston grad, was the most consistent of the three, the 12-year coach said the two remaining Gilligans possess something their older brother didn’t.

Benny Gilligan has climbed to No. 1 singles this season.Greg M. Cooper/Globe
Noah Gilligan has emerged as the unbeaten No. 2 singles player for Weston.Greg M. Cooper/Globe

“All three brothers play a little different,” Conlin said. “Jacob was more consistent, Benny’s got more weapons, and Noah’s got even more weapons than him. I’ve known all three of them since they were little kids. They’re very passionate about tennis and they play a lot.”

Junior Zach Regelman, a first-year Wildcat who earned a spot in the lineup after relocating to Weston following a stint at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., has played next to the Gilligans at third singles.

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In addition to Ding’s and Starrett’s unbeaten start at first doubles, Conlin said sophomore Alex Ko and junior Zunian Luo have performed well at second doubles. Seniors Reid Betty and Akul Srinivasan and freshman Sammy Regelman have provided depth to the lineup.

Zach Regelman has transferred in to Weston and fortified the Wildcats lineup.Greg M. Cooper/Globe

Ask the players what has been the key to their success and some will point to their unselfish play, which is highlighted by Ding’s willingness to move to doubles — a transition he said didn’t require much convincing.

“I think the problem for a lot of teams is when they have good players, they have a bit of an ego and they don’t want to play doubles,” Starrett said. “Singles is about the glory of winning on your own, but we’re willing to play for the team and do whatever it takes.”

Aside from sharing the court, Ding said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make playing doubles has been getting familiar and adjusted to the different shots a doubles player must execute.

“You have to change the shot selections sometimes,” Ding said. “A lot of times at the baseline where you can mainly control it anywhere, you have to hit it cross-court now because you don’t want to hit the net player. Having to hit it cross-court constantly is a pretty big change.”

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Ding’s unselfishness has certainly aided Weston’s success. But it helps that the Wildcats are also confident that they’re peaking at the right time.

“I’ve been playing at a higher level — I think I’m playing the best I ever have in my life,” said Benny Gilligan, who recently earned back-to-back first singles victories over DCL rivals Concord-Carlisle and Westford Academy. “I think I’ve got a new mentality; I’m playing smarter and it’s nice being a senior, I feel like there’s almost less pressure.”

The youngest Gilligan said he’s also more confident now that he’s healthy and a fixture in the lineup.

“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t have that much recent match experience, so it was like I was going into the unknown,” Noah Gilligan said. “I didn’t have a ton of confidence or a lot of matches under my belt, so it feels great to be having success.”

The Wildcats, however, will not be able to “defend” their Division 3 title. As part of the MIAA’s realignments for the statewide tournament, Weston is now in Division 4.

“I really wish we were Division 3 because this is the strongest team I’ve coached in a long time,” Conlin said. “No disrespect to the MIAA or Division 4, but I’m not happy.”

Their focus now starts with next week’s DCL tournament.

“Our goal is to win the Dual County League — that was our goal at the beginning of the season and that’s our goal now,” Conlin said. “Then we’ll think about states and do our best and do what they’re making us do.”

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Max Ding went 18-0 at No. 1 singles last season, but has emerged as a top doubles player in 2022.Greg M. Cooper/Globe

Extra serves

▪ With her top returning singles player, Christine Maher, sidelined because of a lingering nerve injury, Boston Latin coach Paulanne Wilson handed over the team to her youngsters.

The Wolfpack (12-0) have been among the DCL’s top girls’ teams with just two upperclassmen in their starting lineup. What’s even more impressive? Boston Latin has relied on eighth-grader Halina Nguyen and her sister Lillian, a seventh-grader, to play first and second singles, respectively.

“Halina really impressed me as a seventh-grader and I knew she was going to improve, there was no doubt about it,” Wilson said. “And she did, she beat everyone on my team — including her sister, who’s an excellent player, too.”

Sophomore Rachel Lantsman has played well at third singles. Senior Sanjana Singh and eighth-grader Vanessa Vu have thrived at first doubles, and juniors Mirabelle Berman and Romy Li have partnered at second doubles.

“I think people look at us like, ‘This is the undefeated team?’” Wilson said, “but then they get surprised when we get going.”

▪ Sharon boys’ coach Joan Cutter acknowledges, “I just keep getting really good players.”

“I’m always joking around that it’s the water or something, but the people really seem to care about the lessons and the clinics and playing competitively,” she said.

The Eagles (13-0) are back atop the Hockomock’s Davenport Division thanks in part to sophomores Matthew Lally and Alex Budovalcev and freshman Jacob Slavsky at first, second, and third singles , respectively.

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Ruemon Bhattacharyya and Mitch Weiss have been solid at first doubles, according to Cutter, while juniors Kevin Li and Hyojae Park have split time with freshman Sava Kassev at second doubles.

Cutter cites her players’ work ethic as the biggest reason Sharon is a Division 2 state title contender.

“They really enjoy working hard and practicing hard,” Cutter said. “I’m like, ‘OK, we can stop now’ and they say, ‘Well, we’re not quite done yet.’ They don’t want to leave; they want to practice and they want to play.”