Friday, May 10, 2013
STAFF WRITER  – The Record
Brothers Thomas (left) and Daniel Wright give Saddle River Day a tough 1-2 punch.

Brothers Thomas (left) and Daniel Wright give Saddle River Day a tough 1-2 punch.

Saddle River Day’s Daniel and Thomas Wright have a foolproof system for surviving as brothers on the same tennis team. “You have to go into it thinking of yourselves as teammates, not brothers,” said Thomas, a freshman.

Thomas’ arrival to join brother Daniel has given the Rebels a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of their lineup and makes them a title contender among small schools in the Bergen County tournament. It kicks off today at 3 p.m. with the large schools preliminary round at Old Tappan.

“That’s always been a goal of ours,” said Daniel, a three-year starter at first singles. “Individually we want to do the best that we can. But it would be a great achievement as a team.”

The Rebels, who finished third in the tournament last year behind Pascack Hills and rival Dwight-Englewood, were 12-1 through Wednesday with their only loss a tough 3-2 decision at Dwight last month. Thomas is unbeaten at second singles while Daniel has one loss in three sets to returning Bergen champ and state quarterfinalist Nick Bradley of Waldwick.

“Having those two at the top of the lineup is an advantage whenever you play,” Rebels coach Jeff Kurzius said. “Thomas doesn’t hit as hard as Daniel, but like his brother he knows how to win. We feel we’re definitely in it.”

The brothers, who moved to Upper Saddle River from England about four years ago when their father, Matthew, got a job in the U.S., have been playing together for about nine years. It was their mother, Julie, who introduced them to the sport.

“I’ve said this before that having a brother on the team just adds another dimension to it,” Daniel said. “It builds team chemistry and morale.”

But that wasn’t always the case with the two as some early trips to the tennis court would deteriorate into a shouting match at the very least.

“Five years ago, we could barely play a match together,” said Thomas, who still plays soccer and has played basketball and even cricket. “But I realized the advantage it was to have somebody right there to hit with who is better and can make you better.”

“Daniel is a phenomenal leader and a good coach,” Kurzius said of the junior, who is in his second year as a team captain. “He’s always out there giving tips to his teammates, not just his brother.”

And those tips have paid off as the two are both ranked in their age groups by the USTA. Daniel is ranked No. 32 in the Eastern United States in the boys’ 18 division while Thomas is No. 95 in the 16’s.

And they have another brother, Dominic, in the seventh grade who is working his way up the ladder.

“We thought about it and unfortunately we miss having all three of us on the team at the same time by a year,” said Daniel, who will graduate before Dominic reaches high school. “That would have been fun.”

Instead, their fun will come from playing in a match that means something practically every day for the next four weeks. In addition to the county tournament, the Rebels are seeded third in the North Non-Public B state sectional where they could face Dwight-Englewood in the semifinals.

They also have a regular-season match to play with the Bulldogs with the division title likely on the line and the state individual tournament in June.

And Daniel is in line to get another shot at Bradley in the county final. Four of his five losses over the past two seasons have been to Bradley, two coming in three sets.

“I like the team aspect of [high school tennis] because you’re playing with all your friends around,” Daniel said. “When I was a freshman, I didn’t like it because it was just me and my coach. But last year we had four positions reach the semifinals and everybody was around.”

“I’m looking forward to it because you’re representing your school and it’s a chance to make the school proud,” Thomas said.