Hawks on hunt for 5th straight GMC boys’ tennis crown

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By Jimmy Allinder

John P. Stevens

With the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) boys’ tennis tournament scheduled for April 19-22, John P. Stevens High School is seeking its fifth consecutive title.

The Hawks have broken out of the gates this spring by sweeping their first six matches, and their first singles players and two doubles teams have yet to drop a set. Five of the six victories have come against GMC opponents, but coach Ellen Pisano said her team has yet to meet South Brunswick High School and East Brunswick High School, which will likely provide the stiffest competition.

J.P. Stevens finished 20-3 overall last year and made it to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association North Jersey, Section II, Group IV finals. Despite the graduation of its top two players, Vishal Walia (New York University) and Gokul Murigesan (The College of New Jersey), J.P. Stevens welcomes nationally ranked junior player Derek Hsieh, who has been inserted in first singles and has blanked each opponent.

At second singles is senior Arjun Krishnan, 6-0, who played first doubles last year (24-5), and senior Alex Telson (24-2) returns to third singles, where he also is 6-0.

Senior Nihar Prabhala moves up from second doubles (21-5) to team with sophomore Hrishikesh Bopalkar at first doubles, where they are undefeated, and sophomore Akshay Khanna and freshman Ruhan Waghmare are 4-0 at second doubles. Junior Sujay Sayini has also seen time at second doubles.

“We could put any of our three singles players at No. 1,” Pisano said. “That’s a good indication how much depth we have. Nihar has the experience we need at first doubles, and Ruhan has a powerful service and forehand, and that will help us at second doubles.”

Edison

Unlike J.P. Stevens, Edison High School has met — and lost — to South Brunswick and East Brunswick, which accounts for two of its four losses (1-4). The lone victory was a 5-0 win against upstart New Brunswick High School.

“It’s been difficult going against some of the best teams in the Red Division,” said Wes Smith, who brings years of experience coaching the boys’ (22) and girls’ (18) teams. “The win against New Brunswick was a nice team victory because everybody came through.”

At first singles is a junior transfer student from France, Bryan Levi; junior Chris Kozak plays second singles; and sophomore Samyak Shukla is at third singles. All three are 1-4.

Sophomore Gnaneswar Chundi and senior Sidd Lingala occupy first doubles (1-4), and senior Jemuel Torres and junior Anurag Rajagopal make up second doubles (3-2).

“It speaks to the dedication of our players that no one has missed a match,” Smith said. “We had hoped to use preseason to nail down our starting positions, but the [inclement] weather made that difficult. We’re still thinking of shuffling some of the doubles combinations.”

Saint Joseph

Records don’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of a team’s performance, no matter the sport, and a classic example is the Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen baseball team.

The Falcons were 4-4 before they met Edison April 17 in a GMC Red Division game, which suggests they are a pretty average team — an assessment that couldn’t be more wrong.

Two of their losses have been to East Brunswick, 19-7, and Monroe Township High School, 3-1, which are among the top teams in the Red Division. The other two have been to state parochial opponents Saint Joseph Regional High School of Montvale, 10-4, and Paramus Catholic High School, 3-2.

On the winning side of the ledger, St. Joe’s defeated East Brunswick and Monroe the first time the teams clashed, earning 9-5 and 9-1 victories, respectively. The Falcons were equally impressive in wins against Marist High School, 11-0, and Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, 9-0.

Before the season, coach Mike Murray cautioned the rule changes that limit the throws a pitcher could make before requiring a mandatory rest period would require a deeper mound staff, and that has certainly been the case. No fewer than nine pitchers have seen action, including five who have tossed nine innings. Senior Kyle Angel is 1-0 with 15 strikeouts, sophomore Jake Hellwig is 2-0, senior Mike Farr is 1-1, junior Kyle Subers is 0-2 and sophomore Mike Velez is 0-1.

The offense has been balanced, as junior Jon Sot leads with 12 hits and a .429 average, Velez has nine hits and is batting .375, senior Ross Maertz is hitting .321 with nine hits, senior Brandon Warick has seven hits and bats .280 and senior Nick Lofreddo has seven hits and a .259 average.

The other area baseball teams have faced difficult early-season schedules with predictable results. Red Division teams J.P. Stevens and Edison are currently 2-4 and 2-5, respectively, and Metuchen High School and Bishop George Ahr High School, both of the Blue Division, are 1-4 and 0-4, respectively.

Softball

The area softball team with the best record is J.P. Stevens at 4-1, and it hopes to contend for the Red Division and GMC Tournament titles. Blue Division team Metuchen is 4-2, Bishop Ahr of the White Division is 3-3 and Red Division team Edison is 1-6.