Defending the CCC title: Boys tennis starts with a target on their backs

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By BRIAN JENNINGS
STAFF WRITER

The Knights finished last year’s regular season with a 16-1 record (7-0 in division), beating out Hall (11-5, 6-1) by a match to claim the CCC West title for the first time in years. The Knights’ only loss came to Glastonbury in their regular season finale, 7-0.

“We achieved the goals we set out to achieve,” said Mauro. “I knew we were going to be tough to beat. We set a goal of a .900-win percentage, and we exceeded that. I really believe it was the best team in the last 20 years.”

Southington sent a total of 10 players to the Class LL state tournament, advancing one of their doubles teams (Kunal Kataria, Rohan Kataria) as far as the third round.

The Knights graduated 10 players from last year’s team, which included six lettermen and five starters, including all four singles players: Kunal (10-6), Luke Pfanzelt (15-2), Zaya Oshana (12-2), and Grant Ogrin (10-2). Doubles will begin the season without Brett Daigle (13-4 at No. 3 doubles) and James Hoder.

The Knights might be taking a hit on their starting varsity lineup, but they are also returning more than they are losing. Senior Ben and Jake Chasse started at a mix of No.1 and No.2 doubles for the Knights last year, going 12-5 and advancing to the state tournament. Mauro named the Chasse twins as the team captains for the upcoming season.

“I think they’re very mature for their age,” the coach said. “They show very strong leadership qualities. They’re very competitive and sportsmanlike. They set the bar for leadership.”

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The returning doubles players will each make the transition to singles play. Ben is currently sitting at No.2 singles, while Jake is holding down No.3 singles. Junior Mike Balaoing, who went 1-1 at No. 4 singles but played mostly doubles, will all move up to singles. Freshman Matt Balaoing will join them on the singles courts.

“The potential for Matt Balaoing and his brother Mike to be in the top two could happen,” Mauro said. “I remember Matthew at four and a half, five years old in park and recreation. He had that natural ability. He’s a very smart and accurate player. He hits the ball hard, but not quite as hard as his brother. Very rarely does he hit a shot that’s not appropriate for the situation.”

Mauro said the team’s keys to the season are locked up with the No.2 and No.3 doubles dilemma.

Junior Erik Kryzanski went 13-4 at No.2 and No.3 doubles with Daigle, but will have to find chemistry with a new playing partner this season. Erik will team up with his brother and sophomore, Jonathan Kryzanski, to anchor the Southington doubles at the No.1 spot.

Mauro said the team’s keys to the season are locked up with the No.2 and No.3 doubles dilemma. Sophomore Kevin Chudy is looking to start at No.2 doubles as the seventh-ranked player on the team, but the next three spots are up for grabs. Jason Soltys, Kays Cetin, and Mike Jagos are preseason favorites to anchor doubles play.

Other key returners fighting to climb their way up the ladder includes seniors Ian Lawrence and Nicholas Ottalagana; juniors Mike Listro and Andrew Premus; and sophomores Sam Pappas and Brett Rycki. Newcomers looking to make an impact on the team includes juniors Turner Rodman, Sam Johnson, and Mike Loose; sophomores Jacob Holbrook, Adam Gwara, and Alex Klinzmann; and freshmen Nate Zmarlicki, DJ Pestillo, and Mike Kwok.

Although players are sitting in certain spots in the starting lineup, Mauro said that positions can change throughout the year and are not concrete. Even at the top of the lineup, singles rankings might shift throughout the season.

“They’re all capable of being number one,” said Mauro. “I think we’re going to win most of our matches by their play. But I would love to see the doubles step up because I think that most matches are won with doubles, especially in close matches.”

But when players are transitioning from doubles to singles, Mauro said that there is still bound to be a lack of extensive varsity singles experience.

“I think that they have the tools,” the coach said. “They can play a very good game of singles, but they haven’t proven it yet. They haven’t been battle-tested yet.

Although the whole team has shifted with new faces in new places, Mauro said the uniqueness of this year’s team is their display of chemistry, when compared to last year’s squad.

“The [Chasse] twins’ leadership is starting to show their personalities,” said Mauro. “Their overall character is rubbing off onto the team, and I think that is the most encouraging. They can compete and respect each other, but compete hard against each other.”

Mauro is entering his 10th season as head coach of the program, bolstering a 106-48 all-time record in his tenure.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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