By BRIAN JENNINGS
Tony Mauro is in his ninth year as the head coach of the boys tennis team and has winning records above .500 in all of those years but one. Mauro is a big part of why the Blue Knights have had great leadership and continuous success season after season.
Mauro led his troops into the 2014 postseason with a second-place finish behind Simsbury in the CCC West and high hopes, after finishing with a 12-4 (5-2) record. Southington qualified four Knights for the first round of the Class LL Singles Tournament, advancing one to the second round.
On the other side of the net, Southington also advanced three teams to the second round of the Class LL Doubles Tournament.
Now, he’s going to have to build another team. Can they build on lasts year’s success? The Knights have lost seven seniors heading into the 2015 season, and three were starting lettermen.
Will Lefkovich, Alex Angelillo, and Chris Hupper were all lost to graduation. All three played key roles in the three doubles teams. Two advanced in the state tournament.
Lefkovich was the top-ranked doubles player for the Knights, storming to a 10-5 record (.667). Nate Mullins was the No. 2 singles player, a team captain, and raced into the postseason with a 10-4 record (.714).
Southington lost a number of key players, but they are returning even more. Southington returns six senior veterans, two juniors, and two sophomores from last season’s roster. A trio of veteran seniors, Kunal Kataria, Grant Ogrin, and Luke Pfanzelt, return to lead the Knights as captains, and all three anchored the singles lineup last year.
As the No. 1 singles player, Kataria was the only Knight to advance to the second round of the singles state tournament. He returns to build upon his 11-5 (.688) record.
Ogrin wasn’t far behind as last season’s No. 3 singles player with an 11-4 (.733) record. Pfanzelt was the No. 4 player for the Knights, and he returns to build on his 15-1 (.938) record in 2014.
The team captains will be joined by the return of seven, experienced, varsity starters.
Juniors Ben (12-4, .750) and Jake (9-1, .900) Chasse will be leading the Knights as the No. 2 doubles team. Sophomores Mike Balaoing (13-2, .867) and Rohan Kataria (11-3, .786) hold a strong backing at No. 3 doubles.
Ben Chasse, Rohan Kataria, and Balaoing were all part of the three doubles teams to advance to the second round of the doubles state tournament. Senior Brett Daigle is currently sitting in the No. 9-ranked spot on the team, but is playing to work his way up the roster. Senior Zaya Oshana has been hurt the past two years. The lefty could only hope to stay healthy and stay in the mix.
“Zaya has extremely good talent,” said Mauro. “He’s been out of the mix with injuries. If he’s healthy, he can take anyone. He can be anywhere from number one to four on that ladder in singles. When you get a player that’s hurt in the lineup like that, everyone else has to play up one and that means they’re playing stronger people. That’s one of the big keys to the season.”
Sophomore Erik Kryzanski is a young, upcoming talent for the Knights looking to break into the lineup.
Looking at the schedule, the Knights will be playing opponents from traditional, powerhouse tennis towns where indoor tennis facilities and high-level, professional instruction are common.
“The CCC West is a hotbed of Connecticut tennis,” the coach said. “It’s fun to play against those good players.”
Mauro said that Hall, Conard, Simsbury, Farmington, and Newington will be the teams to beat in the CCC West. The Knights haven’t beaten Simsbury in nine years, nor have they beaten Hall in 20. However, Mauro said that his guys have a really good chance to end the drought this season.
Simsbury is coming off of a first-place finish in the CCC West with a 14-1 (7-0) regular season record, but is losing 10 seniors to graduation.
Out of the division, the Knights will be playing top teams like RHAM (twice), Glastonbury, and E.O. Smith. Glastonbury has had a record of 33-3 over the last two years.
This year’s team contains rare talent that doesn’t come along too often. After rebuilding the program for the last four years, Mauro said that these Knights are promising and could be Southington’s strongest boys team in decades.
The Knights are walking into this season with two goals in mind.
“Our primary goal this year is to win our division,” said Mauro. We haven’t done that yet, and we’d like to see that banner.”
Winning the CCC West for the Knights would be the first time ever in the program’s history. The other goal of the team is to exceed a .800 team record. Both are within reach.