Wheatley makes history with first state tennis team championship

Wheatley makes history with first state tennis team championship
The Wheatley School boys tennis team poses with their championship banner after beating Byram Hills, 3-2, to win the Division 2 (Small schools) state championship on Friday at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. Credit: Long Island Tennis Magazine)

It was a simple question, but after the day he’d just had, Herman Lim had trouble answering it.

Halfway through an interview Friday evening following a historic day for his Wheatley School tennis team, Lim was asked where he was on his drive home from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“Uhh, I have no idea,” he said, laughing. “I’m driving home and daydreaming. I am having trouble thinking straight right now, I’m still on Cloud Nine.”

Thankfully, Lim eventually figured his way home, and he and his Wildcats squad brought home an unexpected state championship as well.

Wheatley won five playoff matches after an undefeated regular season, and Friday won semifinal and final team matches in the state playoffs to claim the first-ever Division 2 (Small Schools) state title.

By turning back Cazenovia, 5-0 in the semifinals on Friday morning, then holding off a strong Byram Hills team, 3-2 on Friday afternoon, Wheatley showed its strength and depth to bring home the trophy.

“No words to describe that feeling, when we won,” said sophomore Aaron Raja, who plays No. 2 singles. “We worked so hard, so just to see it pay off … that moment when we won, we all just went crazy.”

In the finals Wheatley relied on the strength of its team, its trio of singles players. No.1 player Kavin Shukla, headed to play at University of Rochester next year, snared a 6-2, 7-5 win that clinched the match. He had to rally from 2-5 down in the second set.

“I was making too many mistakes but then I talked to Coach and figured it out,” Shukla said. “For our team, we are so close as a group and we supported each other and pumped each other up all year. It’s amazing to finally get to the end and be champions.”

Raja won his final match at No. 2, 6-1, 6-4, while 8th grader Saje Menon was victorious at third singles, 6-0, 6-3.

“We knew they (Byram Hills) were very strong at doubles and that we’d need all of our singles players to come through,” Lim said. “And just like they have all year, they did.”

Lim and his players said they felt like they might have a shot at a state title as the year went along; for one thing, the addition of Shukla to the lineup this spring pushed everyone down one spot in the lineup, making it stronger.

And Raja said having a player of Shukla’s ability to practice with every day “made me so much stronger.”

“This was my most talented team I’ve had at Wheatley, and you could see the chemistry with the doubles teams and everyone else developing,” Lim said. “But honestly, even knowing we had talent, this is all a surprise.”

The Wildcats stormed the court after Shukla won his final point, quieting the hundreds of rowdy Byram Hills fans (who came from Mamaroneck for the match) and jumping wildly around practice court No. 5 at the tennis center.
“We just really loved being with each other,” Shukla said. “Best tennis experience I’ve ever had, and we’re so happy to bring this home to our school.”

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