HAVERFORD — Zach and Ben Lieb are twins, although not identical. But make no mistake about it, they are a team.
The Haverford School juniors have been the best singles players in Delaware County for a couple of years now. What they might be best at is playing doubles together, as evidenced by the two national championships they won in under-14 and under-16 competition.
Zach played mostly No. 1 singles and Ben mostly No. 2, although they switched it up from time to time, for a Haverford School team that shared the Inter-Ac League title with a very good Episcopal Academy team.
They don't play challenge matches against each other to determine who plays No. 1 and No. 2 because, well, they're a team. They are difficult to separate. So we decided not to separate them either, making Zach and Ben Lieb Daily Times co-Players of the Year for the 2014 season.
They are joined on the All-Delco team by Upper Darby senior Brett Caban, Episcopal Academy senior Max Kane and Strath Haven senior Nick Ringle. The Liebs appear on the team for the third straight year. The All-Delco team is picked by the Daily Times after consultation with county coaches.
A couple of matches highlighted the spring for the brothers Lieb.
Early in the season, Episcopal Academy edged Haverford School, 4-3, to snap a 49-match Inter-Ac win streak that had included undefeated runs through the league in 2012 and 2013 with Zach and Ben and older brother Jordan forming the core of that group.
When the teams met again a couple of weeks later, Haverford School knew it could get still get share of the title if it could beat EA. When darkness fell that Thursday, the match was tied at 3-3 and Zach Lieb and fellow All-Delco and friend Max Kane were headed for a third set to determine a winner at No. 1 singles and a winner of the match.
With weekend scheduling conflicts, the resumption was set for Monday afternoon.
"We don't usually have crowds at tennis matches,' Zach Lieb said a month later recalling the final set with Kane. "But there were a lot of Haverford students there and a lot of teachers. It was great to have so many people from the school out there supporting me.'
Zach Lieb got a break of serve and won the third set, 6-4. Haverford School would not finish undefeated this year, but it would get a share of the Inter-Ac title.
A couple of weeks later would come the unofficial rubber match at the Inter-Ac Tournament at Episcopal Academy. A noontime rainstorm compressed the event to five-point pro sets in the round-robin rounds and eight-point pro sets to determine each bracket winner. And yes, there is a team winner crowned.
Zach Lieb lost to Kane, 8-0, in the final at first singles. Kane has beaten Zach Lieb twice, both times in the first singles final at the Inter-Ac tourney.
So the team championship would come down to the final at second singles between Ben Lieb and EA's talented freshman Tristan McCormick. With the players tied at 7-all, a seven-point tiebreaker decided the match. Ben Lieb won it 7-2, giving Haverford School the team title, 36.5-35.
"We knew the team was going to be decided by that match,' Ben Lieb said. "I think we were down a point going into that match.'
So Ben picked up his twin brother and The Haverford School team. He's been pretty dependable that way as the victory over McCormick ran his scholastic record to 74 and oh. That's zero losses, none. So go ahead and pick one over the other for Player of the Year. Not a chance.
It was a young Haverford School team, but it grew up fast following the 4-3 loss to EA early in the season. The Churchmen celebrated, as well they should, a special victory.
"I think some of our younger players didn't really understand the rivalry,' Ben Lieb said. "After that, they did.'
Haverford School claimed its second straight team title in the Mayor's Cup at Legacy, the same tennis facility in Philadelphia where they work with Chris Hill, one of the pros there. Hill also coaches Episcopal's Kane, so he must be pretty good at what he does.
The Fords downed New Jersey powerhouse, Lawrenceville School, in a dual match with Zach Lieb holding off Michael Zhao, 11-9, in a 10-point tiebreaker after they had split two sets.
Haverford School will be more experienced next year and the Fords will need that experience when they head for California and the Corona del Mar All-American Invitational Boys Tennis Tournament in Newport Beach, Calif. The 16 best tennis teams in the country will be in the field and Haverford School clearly belongs.
In the meantime, the brothers Lieb will try to make the USTA Boys National Champioinships this summer in Kalamazoo, Mich. in singles and doubles.
"The doubles winner gets a wild card into the U.S. Open,' Zach Lieb said.
Both have played at the highest level of junior tennis. Both have encountered Francis Tiafoe, the top-ranked American junior and second-rated junior player in the world. Ben LIeb lost to Tiafoe last summer.
A big decision awaits Zach and Ben and that is at which college to continue their academic and tennis careers. Older brother Jordan is at Bucknell and Kane, their Inter-Ac rival and friend, is headed there, so Bucknell is definitely in the mix. Boston University is being considered.
But wherever they go, they will go together. Zach and Ben Lieb, you see, they're a team.