When the Westford Academy boys’ tennis team opened the season with one victory in its first seven matches, star junior Connor Liona’s belief in his teammates never wavered — even as his individual excellence was failing to translate to team success.
One month later, his trust has paid off in a big way.
Behind Liona’s usual dominance at first singles (6-2, 6-0) and victories from Saunak Manna at second singles (7-6, 6-0) and a comeback win by Will Owen at third (4-6, 6-1, 6-4) in the deciding match, the ninth-seeded Ghosts topped No. 8 Needham in a 3-2 thriller in the second round of the Division 1 tournament.
Now riding a nine-game win streak following Tuesday’s nearly three-hour match at Newman Elementary School in Needham, Westford Academy (10-6) will take on top-ranked Brookline (19-0) in the quarterfinals.
“All I can do is go out there, and make sure I get my win and do my part,” Liona said. “Then I just trust the guys, and they’ve been playing really, really well lately. We’ve been building momentum into the state tournament, and it’s clicking at the right time.”
Manna battled through some early struggles, before winning the first set in a 7-3 tiebreaker and cracking the match wide open. Manna’s season trajectory mirrors the Ghosts’ team itself — after losing three of his first four matches while battling an elbow injury, the sophomore has won all 12 second-singles matches since.
“Having Connor is a gift . . . but we knew it was going to be a battle the rest of the way,” Westford Academy coach Patrick Claycomb said. “Saunak is playing so much better. He was injured early on, but you can tell he’s really gotten through that and he’s just coming back into himself.”
Though the Ghosts lost to Brookline 4-1 in their first match of the season, they are eager to translate their newfound confidence into an upset victory.
“Sure, we’ve played them before, but I think it’s going to be a completely different match,” Liona said of facing Brookline. “Everyone from me, Saunak, and even our doubles teams have been playing so much better — we’re just carrying a lot of confidence.”
Division 2 State
Hopkinton 3, Nashoba 2 — Lex Kaye battled to a key comeback win at first singles (1-6, 6-4, 6-0) as the fifth-ranked Hillers (19-1) earned a second-round victory. Roberto Rossi and Rishit Shekha (6-1, 6-0 at first doubles), and Andru Palagos and Dilan Glace (6-1, 6-4 at second doubles) added wins for Hopkinton.
Division 4 State
Manchester Essex 4, Monomoy 1 — Jack Cummins won at first singles (6-4, 6-3) and Charlie Virden triumphed at second (6-2, 6-3), lifting the eighth-seeded Hornets (14-7) to a second-round victory. Saunder Breuker and Charlie Langendorf (6-0, 6-2) rolled at first doubles and Finn Birkeland and Jack Lawler (6-0, 6-0) swept at No. 2.
Weston 5, Bartlett 0 — Max Ding notched a 6-1, 6-0 win, leading the way for the top-ranked Wildcats (18-0) in a second-round victory. Weston won each match in two sets.
Division 1 State
Boston Latin 5, Central Catholic 0 — Halina Nguyen and Vanessa Vu both won their singles matches 6-0, 6-0, lifting the top-ranked Wolfpack (18-0) to a second-round victory.
Wellesley 4, Brookline 1 — Junior Masha Shutts (6-3, 6-7, 6-4) triumphed at first singles to clinch the match, and sophomore Sarah Mackey (5-7, 6-4, 6-4) rallied at second singles, propelling the fourth-seeded Raiders (20-1) to a second-round win.
Division 2 State
Notre Dame (Hingham) 3, Scituate 2 — Amelia Maw won the deciding point at first singles, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, for the 10th-seeded Cougars (14-4) in the second-round win over No. 7 Sailors (17-3). Sophia Lirio prevailed at second singles, 6-1, 6-0, and Lily Studebaker and Skye Bunge won at second doubles, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Division 3 State
Foxborough 3, Wilmington 2 — Hayley Kornbluth’s 6-0, 6-0 win helped the 15th-seeded Warriors (12-7) to a first-round victory in Woburn. Both doubles pairings notched victories for Foxborough.
North Reading 3, Belchertown 2 — Sophomore Althea Bradley (1-6, 6-1, 6-2) rallied at first singles, propelling the 13th-seeded Hornets (12-10) to a second-round win. Senior captains Chloe Florez and Katherine Hoadley (6-2, 3-6, 6-2) triumphed at first doubles and senior captain Alyssa Bradley (6-1, 6-4) won at second singles.
Division 4 State
Hamilton-Wenham 5, Quaboag 0 — Sky Jara earned a 6-4, 6-2 win at first singles, powering the top-seeded Generals (19-1) in the second round. Hamilton-Wenham did not drop a set.
Correspondents Mitch Fink, Eamonn Ryan, AJ Traub, and Julia Yohe contributed.