HADDONFIELD - The Middle Township High School boys tennis team met Haddonfield for the sixth straight year in the South Jersey Group II final Monday.
The Panthers, the No. 2 seed, fell 5-0 to the top-seeded Bulldawgs.
Since the rivalry began in 2008, the 2009 Middle team came closest to knocking off powerhouse Haddonfield, losing 3-2. But Middle coach Matt Gilbert said this year's Panthers gave Haddonfield, which won its 11th consecutive and 27th overall sectional title Monday, the toughest competition.
"This has been my strongest team, by far, in eight seasons of coaching," Gilbert said. "With the boys' strong work ethic and dedication, we were ready for it today. But the better team won, and I wish (Haddonfield) the best of luck in the next few rounds. It only makes us look better (to get back here again), and we will continue working hard and hopefully be back next year."
Haddonfield shut out Middle, but there were some tight matches.
Middle's first doubles team of Dini Ukella and Tanner Kerr rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the first set to tie it at 5-all. Haddonfield regrouped and went up 6-5, but Ukella and Kerr took the next game and the tiebreak 7-4 to boosts Middle's chances. Haddonfield won the next two sets.
But the overall match appeared to be up for grabs for a while.
While Middle second singles player and senior Zack Novick trailed Tommy Dodson 5-4 in their first set, the Panthers' second doubles team of Andrew Hoy and Ben Bright led 3-0 in the second set of their match.
Dodson rallied to win that match 6-4, 6-2 to clinch the title for Haddonfield.
"I tried to fight my hardest," Novick said, "but I Just could not find my strength the whole match. And it stinks because I know I'm just as good as him and I didn't really execute."
"It says that even if you're down, you still have to fight your hardest and never give up. I didn't give up the whole match. (Dodson) just played better than me today."
Novick's fight spread to the doubles teams as Bright and Hoy took the second set of their match before losing the third set.
Bright and Hoy both said that Middle's confidence was higher coming into the Haddonfield match than it had been in past years.
"Last year they whooped up on us pretty badly, so we just wanted to come out here and give the best team in South Jersey a run for its money and maybe come out with a win," Hoy said. "But everyone feels good about how they played and we feel good about how far we've come this season."
Haddonfield is ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, while Middle is ranked third.
Bright, Ukella, Kerr and third singles player Alijah Broadnax should all return for their senior seasons next year. Hoy will graduate along with Zack Novick and his twin, first singles player Jeremy Novick. The Novick brothers will continue their tennis careers at Washington College in Maryland.
"Even though we lost again in the finals, I wouldn't trade the last four years for anything," Zack Novick said.
Hoy said, "Our coach has built a strong tradition in making it to the finals, so it was nice to continue that and keep it going. Our coach has taught me a lot and our program has grown over the years. It's nice to traditionally be a respected team in South Jersey."
Contact Kelly Ashe:
Singles-Max Oberholtzer d. Jeremy Novick 6-0, 6-1; Tommy Dodson d. Zack Novick 6-4, 6-2; Isaac Anderson d. Alijah Broadnax 6-0, 6-1.
Doubles-Sam Oberholtzer-Joe Moramarco d. Dini Ukella-Tanner Kerr 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-1; Charlie Carr-Grayson Kohs d. Andrew Hoy-Ben Bright 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
Records-Middle 20-2, Haddonfield 31-5.