When the Greenwich High School boys tennis team circled its midseason grudge match against Darien, this wasn't the lineup they had in mind.
Due to academic ineligibility, injuries and a scheduling conflict with one of her top players, Greenwich coach EJ Haskell was handcuffed without three of her starters against the school that knocked the Cardinals out of the FCIAC playoffs a year ago.
Among the changes, seniors Phil Straessle and Lucas Siegmund got the call up to No. 2 doubles, receiving the news on the bus ride over that they would be playing together for the first time in real competition.
As luck would have it, the match hinged on the newly formed tandem's performance, who realized the team score was knotted at three midway through their first set when the rest of the courts cleared.
"We had to get used to each other's playing - what we were strong at, what we were weak at," Siegmund said. "I know Phil because I've hit with him in the past, but never having to play on a team with him. It was definitely challenging."
As for Haskell: "Just having to scramble a little bit with the lineup at the last minute certainly added some pressure, and Darien is strong all the way down the line. A lot of pressure for them. Fortunately they're seniors, and they kept their composure."
Under similar circumstances last May, Darien shocked the eight-time defending champion 4-3 during the league quarterfinals but was unable to relive a piece of the magic this time around.
"They didn't have all their players then, and we came to play and we won," Blue Wave coach Tom Stepkoski said. "This one, they just have more depth this year even though they were down three players again. It's just a bigger and better Greenwich."
Greenwich freshman Ari Cepelewicz began the day with a quick 6-0, 6-1 victory at No. 2 singles while Cal Kevorkian knotted it right back up for Darien with a straight-set victory (6-2, 6-3) at the three spot.
The two schools continued the pattern all afternoon.
Every time the Cardinals (13-1) grabbed a point, the Blue Wave (6-6) responded with a win, which included three singles victories for Darien.
After Mike Grund and Greenwich co-captain CJ Purse made quick work of Malcolm Willis and Dom Hansford at No. 1 doubles (6-2, 6-1), Darien junior Charlie Khachian brought the match to a halt, outlasting Mark Chien in three sets -- 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.
The victory at No. 3 singles put the Cardinals on their heels while the crowd gathered around court No. 4 to watch the deciding match.
"It's kind of a new team, but still beating them is nice to have on our resume," said Purse, whose Cardinals replaced all four singles players from last season. "Hopefully we'll have a full squad the rest of the season. So it'll only get better, only get better."