Senior-laden Crusaders take-down Central in city clash

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Senior Tiago Mendes won both his singles match, at No. 1, and his doubles match on Thursday. Cindy Lavigne photo/Lavignes Live Shots

MANCHESTER, NH – Last year, it was Manchester Central High School that took the annual rivalry match against Manchester Memorial. This year, the Crusaders, led by ten seniors, exacted revenge on their Little Green Queen City foes.

Competing in its last regular-season match of this spring season, which doubled as Senior Day, Memorial earned an 8-1 win to improve its recored to 6-8 and carry a two-match win streak into the playoffs.

“We’ve had quite a few great wins, some very close wins and some that could have gone either way that we didn’t quite win,” said fifth-year Memorial head coach Shannon Moloney. “Playoffs are definitely going to be tough, but I think winning in the first round is definitely a possibility. We’re going to play a tough team, no matter who we draw, but it would be good to get the win and have some fun, and then hopefully go out on a good note.”

Senior standouts Tiago Mendes and Cam Brown, the Crusaders’ No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, led the way against Central, first earning singles wins, 8-6 and 8-3 over Central’s Ben Soucy and Nate Bannister, and then defeating Soucy and Tyler Cotten, 8-6, in their doubles match.

On the third singles court, Tyler Telge defeated Nick Chiesa, 8-3; Daniel Betancur lost, 8-3, against Cotten on court four; David Ruge edged Prince Ojha, 8-6, on court five; and sophomore Zach Telge defeated Kennan Bilavsky, 8-5, in the sixth singles match.

Tyler Telge and Betancur won, 8-2, against Bannister and Chiesa on the No. 2 doubles court, and Memorial seniors Adam Sacques and Sam Frost stepped up to take down Ojha and Bilavsky, 8-1, on court No. 3.

“Regardless of the season, when Central gets together with Memorial, there are a lot of bragging rights on the line,” said Central coach Michael DeBlasi. “These kids know each other from growing up, and of course, they have to live with a win or loss the entire offseason. We had a good battle today. You know, on the scorebook, all the matches were close, but Memorial won, and that’s why they’re going to the tournament and we’re not.”

In addition to the Crusaders reaching the Division I team tournament, Mendes will be competing in in the state individual tournament and then join Brown in the state doubles tournament, which will also feature the pairing of Tyler Telge and Betancur.

In addition to the seven aforementioned upperclassmen who competed Thursday, Memorial also features seniors Bryan Le, Peyton Auprey and William Pham.

“A lot of guys have been with us since their sophomore year – freshman year was COVID, so they would have been four-year varsity athletes –  so having our experienced seniors and captains (Mendes and Brown) has been great,” said Moloney, “and then we’ve had a couple new guys who brought a lot of energy to the team and we wouldn’t have had this great season without them.”

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Senior Sam Frost, pictured with his mother, Laura, was celebrated – along with nine classmates – at Senior Day on Thursday. Cindy Lavigne photo/Lavignes Live Shots

Central, which fell to 1-12 with the setback to Memorial, looks to close the season on a winning note when it hosts 8-5 Keene today at 4 p.m.

“Central is always a fun team to play,” said Moloney. “They always have some really good athletes, and today, honestly, could have gone either way and we’re lucky that it went our way.”

Bilavsky, Cotten, Ojha, Soucy and Hassan Khan all graduate for the Little Green, however, the Little Green have seven underclassmen likely returning for the 2024 season who are likely to give Central a leg up when next Central and Memorial meet.

“We had four seniors who played regularly in our lineup, and we don’t make excuses. We were undermanned, but the guys worked hard,” said DiBlasi. “A lot of guys were playing in their first or second year of tennis, and I think today was only the second out of 13 matches so far where we’ve actually had our entire top six together … It makes a difference in the sense that when you lose somebody up high in your lineup, the other guys have to step up, and maybe they’re not quite ready for that position because they’re so inexperienced, so we just hope that our sophomores who played a lot will be back and improve in the offseason and recruit some friends who want to play tennis next spring.”

In addition to Chiesa and Bannister, the Little Green also hope to return sophomores Mohsin Akhter, Noah Eckman, Noah Turner and Trinity Vu, as well as freshman Jonah Therrien, all who will be looking to to win the next round against the Crusaders.

“We got the best of Memorial last year and they got us this year, so it seems to be cyclical,” said DiBlasi.

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About this Author

Ryan O'Connor

As a longtime journalist in Southern New Hampshire, Ryan O'Connor has written for several local online and print publications covering everything from school board meetings and local high school sporting events to major crime stories and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (yes, the last two are mutually exclusive). In addition to spending time with his beautiful wife and four amazing children, Ryan enjoys attending and serving at church, golfing as much as possible, home brewing, playing softball and snowboarding when time allows.