May 4—EAST LYME — It was another link in the chain for the East Lyme High School boys' tennis team, which has now won 59 straight matches after topping Stonington 6-1 Monday afternoon.
But it wasn't nearly as routine as all that. East Lyme was missing three varsity players due to COVID-19 contact tracing, resulting in a few mismatched doubles teams and a singles player who doesn't usually compete in singles.
The Vikings were facing fellow unbeaten Stonington, which hadn't dropped a match this season despite not returning a single varsity player from 2019, the last time the team was on the court.
And No. 1 singles player Sujesh Kurumbail was in the midst of a three-set chess match with Stonington freshman Tucker Callahan, who seemed to hit the ball to every corner of the court that Kurumbail was not. Meanwhile, Kurumbail began cramping at the end of the second set and into the third.
"It's been an interesting season. We're trying to scope out the competition," East Lyme coach Susan Welshock said. "We knew Stonington was coming to see us undefeated. We knew we had our work cut out for us today."
Two of East Lyme singles players were previously doubles specialists in their careers.
In the 2019 Eastern Connecticut Conference doubles final, the East Lyme team of Jonathan Tan and Guillem Colom beat teammates Kurumbail and Ethan Stewart. On Monday, Kurumbail was at No. 1 singles and Colom at No. 3 for the Vikings, 7-0 overall, 6-0 in ECC Division I.
"Yes, because they play outside of season and they play after practice and they play weekends when they put together captains' practices," Welshock said, asked whether the doubles guys were adapting to their new surroundings. "They're highly motivated. They're strong boys."
Singles players Daniel Sapoznikov at No. 2, Colom at No. 3 and Benji Tan at No. 4 earned wins for East Lyme over Stonington (5-1, 3-1). East Lyme swept the doubles behind the teams of Rohan Purohit and Jiarui Peng, Riley Walsh and David Chung and Liam Powers and Rohun Veerappa-Boopathy.
Stonington's Callahan took the No. 1 singles match from Kurumbail 6-3, 6-7 (9), 6-1.
Callahan, though a freshman, has past playing experience and a finesse for the game. He called himself "nervous" and "nauseous" against Kurumbail, unable to put away the second set despite leading 6-5 with the serve. Kurumbail then pulled out the lengthy tiebreaker.
"I didn't think I'd make it," Callahan said. "I had a terrible time. I felt like I was going to pass out. I was playing one of the hardest people and I didn't play my best. I felt like in the third set I just woke up."
"I need to start running maybe," Kurumbail said jokingly after suffering from leg cramps late in the match. "He's a great player."
Kurumbail, who earned recognition as one of East Lyme's CIAC Scholar-Athletes during a virtual ceremony Sunday, will attend Purdue University and major in biomedical engineering. He initially followed older brothers Mukesh and Unni down the path as a doubles specialist but said he wanted to try something different. He won all his ladder matches to get to the No. 1 singles slot.
"I have great coaches, so if I mess something up I'm able to discuss it with them," Kurumbail said of the transition. "Also, the guys below me are arguably better than me, so I have strong people to play against. It's a great tennis environment we have here."
Stonington has just 10 players, all newcomers to the team.
"We have a lack of experience but not a lack of talent," Stonington coach John Adriano said. "What they need are matches and they can only get them one at a time. It's going to be a learning process. ... But even though they're freshmen and sophomores, they've improved a lot in the last few weeks. I really look forward to the rest of this year but next year also."