When Edgemont hosted Scarsdale Tuesday, it was more than just a boys’ tennis match. Edgemont coach Mark Romney took the opportunity to celebrate and honor the Steinbergs, a Scarsdale family of five who died in a plane crash along with seven others in Costa Rica last Dec. 31.
Zachary (Scarsdale ’16) and William (’17) played tennis for Scarsdale — and against Edgemont — and Romney was a friend of parents Bruce and Irene. The youngest, Matthew, was a student at Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City.
Romney presented Scarsdale coach Jennifer Roane with a plaque from the Edgemont tennis community with the names of the five family members and offered some reflection and a minute of silence prior to the match.
“It’s a testament to the Edgemont community,” Roane said. “They still had ties and connections to the family. It’s very, very sad. I cried for days when I saw it on the news.”
Current Raiders Suhas Vennam, Luke Smith and Gus Thompson played on the varsity team with Zachary, while some of the others played with William on Greg Leong’s varsity B team.
Better known as “Steiny,” Zachary was a strong presence for Scarsdale tennis, playing third singles as a sophomore and senior and doubles with Victor Avram as a junior.
“He was a great kid and I’ve been coaching at Scarsdale 24 years,” Roane said. “He always came with a lot of energy. Sometimes it was nervous energy. I told him that was good. He always tried to be a better tennis player. And he liked a crowd.”
Romney will always remember the Steinbergs for their “most wonderful smiles.” He spent time on and off the tennis court with the entire family and knew he couldn’t pass on the chance to honor his neighbors as part of the healing process.
“These are two very caring communities, Scarsdale and Edgemont,” Romney said. “These are people who bond together and have a great sense of community. When there’s a loss like this I also think we have to bond together. That’s what today is about. We’re dedicating the match to their memory.”
He added, “The family had such a strong connection to tennis,” noting Bruce was busy, but never too busy to come watch his sons play.
Scarsdale and Edgemont remain among the best teams in Section 1 and they had yet another competitive match, with the Raiders topping the host Panthers 5-2.
Scarsdale got singles wins from Luke Smith and Nikolay Sahakyan, while Ryan Ho won for Edgemont at third singles. In doubles, Scarsdale took the top three spots with Gus Thompson/Suhas Vennam, Dylan Cohn/Jake Singer and Alan Chung/Andrew Nussbaum winning. For Edgemont, Liam Klein/Matt Lazar won at fourth doubles.
The Raiders were coming off a 6-1 loss to Horace Greeley and are now 3-2, having also lost to Horace Mann, while the Panthers are 4-3. Both coaches like to challenge their teams to prepare them for the postseason. Neither puts much stock in a nonleague 7-0 win.
The Greeley match really tested Scarsdale.
Thompson and Vennam lost 6-4, 6-4 against Greeley’s Kenta Tago and Zack Wallis.
“Even though the score doesn’t reflect it, they played some really good points,” Roane said. “They both had some unforced errors. Kenta is just unbelievable. There was a ball over his head and instead of turning and looking, he just turns around with his racket over his head with an angle and he put it over. He’s quick and technical. Even though they lost they were pretty happy with how they played.”
Cohn and Singer lost 3-6, 6-3, 10-5 after leading 5-0 in the first set. While they won that first set, the momentum was zapped.
“We talked about momentum in one or two games and attitude on the court and how that can change the match,” Roane said. “Before you know it Jake and Dylan were looking at each other like, ‘What’s going on?’ They got caught up in Greeley’s momentum.”
The fourth doubles duo of Jordan Ziffer and George Brady, who had both played singles against Horace Mann to fill in some voids the previous day, won 6-2, 6-2 to avoid the sweep.
“They played well,” Roane said. “They communicate pretty well on the court and both of them are not afraid to make shots at the net and the shots they do, George is pretty good with angles and Jordan is pretty quick. We didn’t want to be swept.”
Going forward Roane continues to focus on doubles play with her team. She’s constantly reminding them to get the game to the net as quickly as possible, to avoid a lob-fest. There are a lot of doubles drills on rare practice days.
“Sometimes we get caught up in hitting, hitting, hitting, hitting or forgetting to come in,” Roane said. “I’ve been telling the boys when they get that short ball to come in and stay in. Don’t start to come back.”
Romney also knows the importance of doubles, but more importantly he doesn’t want his Panthers to have any doubt or fear when they enter a match. It’s not easy when you’re a small school in the same postseason pool as the larger schools, but that’s why he likes to play Scarsdale, Greeley and others.
“That’s how you get ready to compete,” he said.
The team’s 7-0 win over Irvington a day earlier was nice, but the team doesn’t benefit as much as it does from a 5-2 loss to Scarsdale.
“That was great and every match is important, but we need to play against the best,” Romney said. “They want to play and be challenged. It’s never going to be a fair fight, Scarsdale against Edgemont. Scarsdale is three times the size of Edgemont. We’re neighboring communities so when we have a chance to do it we should do it.”
While Edgemont looks to compete in every match, Romney focuses on winning the league title each year. The team is already 2-0 in league play.
Romney has a more set lineup this year, but with 16 matches he knows 1) not everyone can play every day and 2) there are certain matches he can get less experienced players into.
“The guys are playing great,” Romney said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement. We have a lot more of a settled lineup than in past years even though we have 19 on the roster and I rotate in. When I rotate out I’m not mixing, but sitting out some of my upper level guys against some of the lesser competition teams.”
Top singles player Lucas Chan is leading the way for Edgemont. Romney is surprised how much the three-time All-Section player has improved.
“He’s a senior and his level of play is tremendous this year,” Romney said. “He’s gotten better, he’s gotten fitter, he’s gotten tougher. He’s had some great matches already this year. He beat the Harrison and Byram Hills No. 1s. Those are top kids.”
With a lot of season left and the weather about to be steadier after a washout Wednesday and a potential one Friday — both Scarsdale and Edgemont were pleased to get their match in. There was a lot on the line, but everything was put into perspective during the opening ceremony for the Steinbergs.
A plaque, a speech and good tennis was just another part of the healing process.