By Tim Morris
A typical Marlboro High School tennis season would please boys head coach Dave Kretzmer.
In recent years, the Mustangs have maintained their hold on the Shore Conference A North Division while remaining one of the conference’s best tournament teams and a perennial semifinalist in NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV.
The 2016 season should be no different, but the Mustangs have some inexperience, especially at doubles.
“I do have three freshmen starting at doubles who will have a big part to do with our success,” Kretzmer said. “I think we are pretty solid at singles and first doubles.”
In another words, the Mustangs have another balanced lineup with no glaring weakness. They can get points from anywhere in their lineup, which is what has separated them from the rest.
Steve Vorona and Nikhil Chakraborty are starting at first doubles, and Kretzmer is confident that they can maintain Marlboro’s tradition for doubles domination. With some game experience and learning to play as a team, the coach believes the freshman duo will get stronger as the year moves on.
Aakash Krishna, the third starting freshman, has been teaming with sophomore Jared Chiou at second doubles.
Marlboro has depth at second doubles. Dean Dijour (senior) and Alex Yao (junior) have played matches this season.
Senior Safie Moamen tops Marlboro’s veteran singles lineup at first singles. He is one of the best in the conference and was a state qualifier last year.
Behind Moamen, the Mustangs have sophomore Ryan Wang and senior Matthew Cruz at second and third singles.
Although the season is young, the Mustangs have yet to lose a match at singles.
Marlboro (5-1) has started the season with five straight wins in the division. This week, the Mustangs will learn if they will have a smooth ride in A North with matches at Freehold Township High School (April 18) and at home to Manalapan High School (April 20).
Time will tell if the Mustangs are ready to take the next step in the postseason and reach a Shore Conference Tournament final — where state champion Holmdel High School always looms — and win an extra round in the state sectional tournament — perhaps reaching the finals.
Manalapan (4-1) could be the Mustangs’ biggest hurdle (not including non-public Christian Brothers Academy (CBA)) in A North with the addition of a pair of promising freshmen to a team that is a perennial postseason participant. The Braves have looked up at Marlboro and CBA in recent years and would like nothing more than to beat them this spring.
At the top of the singles lineup, Konrad Slabinski is a three-starter playing first singles. The junior qualified for the NJSIAA singles tournament last year with Moamen. Yash Trivedi and Tarun Pilavulathil are the incoming freshmen who are playing second and third singles for head coach Darryl Birkhead.
Alen Stepkin, a sophomore, and Dylan Williams, a senior, are playing first doubles, and junior Saivamsi Polavarapu and sophomore Bryan Pritsker have been playing second doubles.
With only two seniors in the lineup, the Braves have a bright future.
Freehold High School is a team accustomed to playing in the conference and state tournaments. Head coach Larry Boice has experience at the top of the Colonials’ singles lineup with senior Yash Shah and William Lee playing first and second. A freshman, Nalin Gradilla, has broken into the lineup at third singles.
Junior Karthik Ashok and senior Jake Flores are the first doubles tandem, while sophomore Dylan Castor and junior Rohin Kushwaha are teaming up at second doubles. The doubles teams have been very important to Freehold’s 3-3 start.
Freehold Township (3-3), which is no stranger to the state tournament, is counting on experience this spring with a lineup in which all but one player is a senior.
Arjuna Menon, Matt Turley and Anthony Critelli are all seniors and make up the singles lineup for head coach Anthony Martinez.
Seniors Josh Triff and Dan Jahn are at first doubles, while Anthony Triolo (junior) and Alex Kash (senior) play second doubles for the Freehold Township.
John Gagliano has added head tennis coach to his many hats at Howell High School, and his club is in a rebuilding mode. He pointed out that the Rebels (0-5) are very young and inexperienced. The Rebels have no seniors in the lineup.
Sophomore Mike Spagnoli is playing first singles. Junior Ryan Leary and freshman Sidhu Arakkal are playing second and third singles.
At doubles, the Rebels have been play Dominick Civitano and Nicholas Gonzalez — a sophomore and junior — as the first team, and sophomores Tyler Cook and Adam Ben-Harush are the second-doubles pairing.
Colts Neck High School is in B North, where Ocean Township High School is the division favorite. The Spartans handed the Cougars (4-1) their only loss of the season.
The Cougars’ lineup has Alex Tantum (sophomore), Tarun Sudabathula (freshman) and Daniel Liu (junior) at singles. Juniors Max Freeman and Varun Sudabathula are at first doubles, while seniors Kyle Gordon and Matt Hou play second doubles.
Art Collier has a young team overall that has shown it will be very competitive and will be playoff bound. A 3-2 win over a good Wall High School team proved the Cougars can tough it out.