The 2016 boys tennis season played out like it has over the last decade: with Marlboro High School as the top dog.
Dave Kretzmer’s Mustangs made deep runs to the semifinals of the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV tournaments while holding onto their Shore Conference A North Division public school title. The Mustangs went 17-5 with a team that was relatively young, except for Safie Moamen — the area’s best singles player.
Marlboro’s reign could be threatened next year by a Manalapan High School team that had freshmen playing second and third singles this season. The young Braves showed a lot of promise, taking Marlboro to the limit in their first division contest of the season. Marlboro had to win two three-set matches at singles to get past the Braves. Manalapan finished the season 15-6.
Art Collier’s Colts Neck High School team had a splendid 2016 season, going 15-5 and finishing second in the B North Division. The Cougars played well in the postseason tournaments, reaching the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament and the semifinals in Central Jersey, Group III.
Freehold High School and Howell High School also fielded teams that competed in the state tournament.
Moamen heads the News Transcript’s All-Freehold Regional High School District Boys Tennis Team. At singles with Moamen are his teammates, Ryan Wang and Matthew Cruz, Manalapan’s Konrad Sablinski and Freehold’s Yash Shah.
The doubles tandems are Manalapan’s Alen Stepkin and Tarun Pilavulathil and Marlboro’s Nikhilk Chakraborty and Steve Vorona.
Moamen defeated everyone in A North this season on the way to being one of the best players in the Shore. He used a strong first service and powerful ground strokes to dominate points. Playing aggressively, when opportunity struck, he finished points off at the net with sharp volleys.
The senior was among the 32 seeded players for the NJSIAA Singles Tournament.
Sablinski’s only loss to a player in the area was to Moamen. The highlight of his season was reaching the Monmouth County Tournament finals at first singles, falling to Holmdel High School’s Justin Wain in the championship match. Sablinski is a junior.
Wang, a sophomore, could be the heir apparent to Marlboro’s first singles slot. Playing second singles this spring, Wang won a number of important three-set matches for the Mustangs, with none as big as his comeback against Manalapan.
Cruz was as automatic a point as they come. The senior did not lose a regular-season match. He reached the third singles finals at the Monmouth County Tournament, where he lost to Holmdel’s Dennis Barlotta.
Shah was a four-year veteran with the Colonials and during his stay, Freehold always made postseason tournaments. He provided steady leadership and play at first singles for the Colonials.
Both doubles teams are young, which means the Mustangs and Braves are in good shape for several years.
Marlboro went with a pair of freshmen in Chakraborty and Vorona. As expected, they got stronger as the season went on. They gained experience playing as a team and at the varsity level.
Manalapan’s top team was sophomore Stepkin and freshman Pilavulathil. They gave the Braves a balanced lineup that helped them challenge Marlboro this year. In the first match of the year between Marlboro and Manalapan, the Braves swept at doubles, which was unheard of in past years.