For the PHS boys tennis team, having players step up was crucial to its success this season. With Noah Lilienthal ’18 and Jerry Gu ’19 not returning to the singles lineup due to outside competition, the team encountered some unexpected obstacles when everyone was forced to play in higher positions than planned.
“[This] required the people, who were playing lower on the ladder or chose not to play last year, to play up,” said Co-Captain Matthew Danielson ’17. “We had one freshman coming to the varsity singles lineup, which is important, and one player who didn’t play last year [who] chose to return playing singles this year.”
“People just stepped up; there was obviously a hole in our lineup … We all worked really hard, [and] played well at practices … [so] when we started the season, we were ready,” said Co-Captain Ares Alivisatos ’17.
Despite the initial difficulty, the team ended its season 14–5, losing only to both the West Windsor-Plainsboro high schools, Hopewell Valley High School, and Summit High School in the second round of states.
“Everyone worked hard [and] stepped up into the positions that they were asked to play. We had a couple of close 3–2 matches where everyone worked hard and pulled together when they needed to,” said Head Coach Sarah Hibbert. Notable 3-2 matches were against Lawrence, Hightstown, and Robbinsville High Schools, all in favor of the Little Tigers.
Even though the team lost its two most experienced hitters, the program was still very strong; the team only lost one senior from the varsity lineup and had four returning, in addition to juniors such as Kevin Yang ’18 and sophomores such as Simon Hwang ’19.
“We still have a strong base of players here … Most of these guys work in the off-season a lot and devote a lot of time to their game, so they’re able to bring those skills out to the court,” Hibbert said.
In addition to players competing on a higher level, one of the building blocks to the team’s success can be attributed to the team’s increased spirit both on and off the court, which had been lacking in previous years.
“[This] team, in terms of team spirit in the four years that I have been here … is at its best this year, and that really helped,” Alivisatos said. “That motivated everyone and made us really want to come out and play our hardest every time,” Alivisatos said.
This increased spirit can also be attributed to the larger freshmen class joining the team; with only one freshmen on the varsity lineup, the remaining players played a vital role on the sidelines during important matches.
“It was really awesome because they brought a lot of great energy to the team … As captains, it was really great because we just had to go in and facilitate that … everyone was really, really excited, and we would all cheer for each other throughout our matches,” Alivisatos said.
“[The team] gives them a chance to work together and see what high school tennis looks like,” Hibbert said. “Working with and seeing some of the seniors out there and know[ing] that they could possibly be the future of the program… there [are] a lot of them, [and] they will push each other to get better.”
Most importantly, towards the end of the season, the team saw success in doubles pairings working well together. During preseason, it is usually very difficult to find different pairs to accommodate all of the doubles players on the team, who make up the majority of the lineup.
“By the end of the season during the important matches, doubles teams were clicking, and the singles lineup … when they needed to they definitely stepped up and played … as best as they could in our hard matches,” Danielson said.