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Home Indepenent Independent Sports Hornets exceed expectations, in hunt for more titles

Hornets exceed expectations, in hunt for more titles

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Hornets exceed expectations, in hunt for more titles

By Matthew Rocco

The Holmdel High School boys tennis team has returned to its familiar role of postseason juggernaut, scooping up three titles on its way to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC).

The Hornets were in a period of transition heading into the 2016 season. Michael Chen, their star at first singles, graduated in 2015. As Holmdel prepared to go into the new season with a younger cast, there was some uncertainty over how the Hornets would stack up. But sophomore Justin Wain quickly emerged as another star first singles player, and the rest of the Hornets raised their games to another level in order to keep Holmdel in championship form.

“The TOC is more than I expected of this team, but I knew we were talented and deep. Everyone stepped up,” head coach Chuck Chelednik said. “Last year, we relied on Mike to get us a point. They knew this year, everyone had to step up to get three points. There was a concerted effort to get back to where we were last year.”

Despite the roster shakeup, the Hornets were determined to maintain their dominance in tournament play. In 2015, they won the Monmouth County, Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group II tournaments. This spring, Holmdel repeated as champions in all three. The team topped Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) and Manalapan High School for the Monmouth County Tournament title. The Hornets proceeded to win their eighth straight Shore Conference Tournament, winning all five matches against CBA in the finals. Holmdel recorded another shutout in the Group II championship to defeat West Essex High School.

Throughout postseason play, the Hornets have demonstrated they can win points up and down their lineup. Holmdel took every match in straight sets against a tough West Essex squad. Earlier the same day, the Hornets advanced with a 4-1 win in a Group II semifinal against one of their customary postseason opponents, Haddonfield Memorial High School. Holmdel beat Haddonfield in the TOC quarterfinals last year after Haddonfield won the Group I title.

Chelednik has seen each of his players make progress. Junior Harrison Lin moved up to second singles and hasn’t let go. Senior Dennis Barlotta, playing third singles this year, continued to be a steady force for Holmdel. In doubles play, Charles Jiang and Blain Liang have excelled at first doubles. Freshmen Alex Tsai and Brian Chu have given Holmdel a strong second doubles tandem.

“Harrison’s gotten better, Dennis has been solid all four years and our doubles have gotten better,” Chelednik said. “Harrison has really improved, and he’s gotten stronger physically. He’s also a leader of the team. He does a lot of the fundraising and other activities we do as a team. I’m glad he’s done well at No. 2.”

As for Wain, the young first singles starter has lost just two matches all season. One of those losses was a strategic forfeit after Holmdel locked up its Group II semifinals win over Haddonfield.

“Justin really has taken over first singles. He’s really got a stranglehold on that No. 1 spot,” Chelednik said.

The team’s depth will be a key advantage for the Hornets as they prepare for another TOC run. Holmdel, the No. 5 seed, was scheduled to face No. 4-seed Delbarton School in the quarterfinals May 31. Top-seeded Newark Academy awaited the winner in the semifinals June 1 at Mercer County Park. The TOC championship is set for June 2. All rounds are played at 2 p.m.

Holmdel made it to the semifinals of last year’s TOC, where the team lost to another state powerhouse, Livingston High School. The Hornets now have a chance to march even further into the tournament.

“Us and Delbarton are pretty even. We both have good depth. … What it comes down to at 2 p.m. on a hot day is heart, and how bad you want it,” Chelednik said a day before the TOC kicked off. “It always comes down to doubles every year. Our seniors are playing well. I think they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder. They want to play well with the doubles tourney coming up.”

Elsewhere in the state tournament, CBA toppled Donovan Catholic High School, 4-1, to advance to the South Jersey, Non-Public A championship. The Colts, who were seeded first in their bracket, lost to No. 2-seed Notre Dame High School, 3-2, in the finals.