STONINGTON — Stonington High boys tennis coach called the Bears' 2019 season "near perfect."
Four players were a big reason why: Top two singles players Jake Stiger and Will Michelson, both seniors, and the No. 1 doubles team of Kyle Remmert and Graham Johnston, also seniors.
Remmert and Johnstone grabbed the biggest headlines. They won the state doubles title in Class S and, consequently, earned All-State honors. They were also All-ECC Division II first-teamers.
Stiger, meanwhile, went 22-5 and reached the Class S semifinals. He, too, garnered both all-state and all-division first-team honors.
And Michelson finished 17-2 and was named to the ECC Division II first team. The only thing preventing him from reaching the ECC tournament final was his teammate, Stiger, who beat him in the semifinals in three sets.
Stonington wound up tied for second in Class S, won the ECC D-II title and finished with a 15-1 record.
"It was certainly a successful season, that's for sure," Bears coach John Adriano said. "We were 15-1 and tied for runner-up in the state. It's been awhile since we've had anybody make All-State. The last one was Colin Melford [in 2010]. We won the Division II championship and came up short of winning the state championship, which would've been considered a perfect season. This was near perfect."
Remmert and Johnson were near perfect as a team, finishing 19-3.
Adriano said his doubles teams somewhat underachieved in 2018 and that he wanted to see improvement in that area. Fortunately for Adriano and the Bears, Remmert talked his friend into rejoining the tennis team (Johnstone spent last spring competing in track). Stonington had depth of talent in its singles ladder and that allowed for the pairing of the two in doubles.
Adding the athletic Johnstone "was an automatic improvement before we had a moment of practice," Adriano said.
"Pairing them up turned out to be a pretty good move," the coach added. "They had a pretty good run."
That's for sure.
The two reached the ECC semifinals to earn Division II first-team honors, then went on to win the Class S title with a three-set win over second-seeded Chris Nuzzo and Garrett Johnson of Morgan.
"Winning that championship was no easy task," Adriano said. "They defeated the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds [in the semifinals and finals, respectively]. They were seeded fourth. Both matches were three-setters, so that's doing things the hard way. But it worked out."
Using their athleticism, Remmert and Johnstone were able to cover a lot of ground on the court, leaving little open space for opponents to exploit.
"With those two, the amount of court that's open is significantly less because of their tremendous range. Range is their biggest asset," Adriano said.
"Our goal was to get Johnstone up at the net. He's a bit of an enforcer up there and covers a lot of ground. Remmert was good with his returns from the baseline, keeping balls up and high, and giving Johnstone the opportunity at the net. They are also athletic enough to go back on a ball and go get it if it's over their head."
Stiger played No. 1 singles for the Bears his freshman, sophomore and senior seasons. He played No. 1 doubles last season because of an injury.
This spring, he reached the semifinals of both the ECC and Class S tournaments to earn first-team honors in both.
Adriano said consistency, experience and the ability to finish a point set Stiger apart.
"He has an all-around consistent game," the coach said. "He's good from the baseline — he really sharpened his skills from last year playing all those doubles matches. Opponents hit the ball with pace, he plays off their pace. He has a solid serve. He's not gonna bowl you over but he's not gonna give you a lot of free points by hitting double faults."
Michelson's game, meanwhile, is all about power. During the regular season he lost just five games behind a strong forehand.
"His forehand was a big weapon that carried him for four years," Adriano said. "Every year I've seen improvement. He has a solid backhand but a dominant forehand. Even though opponents knew he was gonna use it they couldn't stop it."
With Stiger sticking to doubles last season, Mickelson played No. 1 singles and reached the ECC finals. This season he lost to Stiger in the semifinals, 6-1, 6-7, 6-1.
"The two of them, if they choose to continue playing tennis at the college level, I think they'll have the opportunity to do that," Adriano said.