Dylan Koziol of Wilton with his runner-up trophy after the Little Mo Tennis Tournament North Region finals in July.
Only 16 players in the country remain alive in the Little Mo Tennis Tournament 11-year-old boys division — and Wilton’s Dylan Koziol is one of them. Koziol qualified for the national finals by finishing second in the Little Mo North Region tournament, held July 17-19 at the Homewood-Flossmoor Racquet & Fitness Club, in Homewood, Ill.The Little Mo Nationals will be held Oct. 16-19 at the Austin Tennis Academy in Austin, TX. “Making it to the nationals in Texas has been my goal from the beginning and I’m so happy to have achieved this,” said Koziol. “I’m grateful to my parents and my coach for helping me get to this point. My goal at the nationals is to compete well, stay focused and have fun.”
The Little Mo Tennis Tournament is one of the premier challenges for young players (ages 8-12) in the country. The annual event is named in honor of Maureen Connolly, who at the age of 18 became the first woman to ever capture the Grand Slam of tennis in 1953. An injury ended her career the next year, and she died in 1969 from cancer. Tournament play begins in 19 sectional tournaments, with top eight finishers advancing to one of four regional championships. The North Region included the qualifiers from the New England, Eastern, Middle States, North and Midwest sections. This is Koziol’s first time playing in the Little Mo tournament.He began his journey to nationals by finishing second at the Middle States sectional tournament, held May 15-17 at Aronimink Tennis Center in Newtown Square, PA, where he was visiting family at the time. He lost to the top seed in a marathon three-set match in the finals, 5-7, 7-5, 10-4.At regionals in July, he didn’t lose a set in his first three matches, beating second-seeded George Nottley of Lake Elmo, MN, 6-2, 6-2, in the quarterfinals, and then third-seeded Alex Prather of Grosse Point Farms, MI, 6-2, 6-1, in the semifinals. In the finals, he lost to the top seed, Azariah Rusher of Amherst, N.H., 6-1, 6-1.
“I went into regionals feeling excited but a little nervous because I drew the number-two and number-three seeds and knew it would be tough to advance to the final. I think I played my best tennis in the quarterfinal and semifinal matches. In the quarterfinal I was able to beat a top-10 ranked player in the Northern section from Minnesota and it gave me confidence that my game was good enough to compete with the best players,” Koziol said. “By winning that match and advancing to the semis I qualified for the nationals, so it was a really important moment for me all around. I think the confidence I gained from that win helped me stay focused in the semifinal as well.”
Koziol, a rising sixth grader, has only been playing competitive tennis for less than three years, and trains at Solaris Racquet Club in Stamford with coach Ryan Pena. He is currently ranked 20th in New England in the 12U boys age group. Although he played travel soccer up to the U10 level, he decided to stop in order to focus on tennis year-round.
Note: For more information on Little Mo and the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation, please visit mcbtennis.org.