By BRIAN JENNINGS
The boys tennis practice was only scheduled until 6:30 p.m., but it was already dark when the returners finally left the court. Coach Tony Mauro had only scheduled two hours of practice, but his experienced players were on the court for almost three.
“I told them that I would be there if they wanted to continue playing,” said Southington coach Tony Mauro. “If they didn’t want to, we were going home. They kept right on.”
This year’s team certainly loves the game and loves to hit the ball, but Mauro said that they have the potential to be a team with the best chemistry that he’s ever had coaching at Southington, and there’s no doubt in his mind.
“Each of these players is the kind of player that is always focused,” said Mauro. “I don’t mean that they’re world champions. I’m just saying that between the attitude, commitment, and skills that are coming along pretty well, it’ll prove itself into next year.”
This year’s team not only has great chemistry amongst themselves, but Mauro said that they also accept one another as equals.
“They don’t seem to be bothered, whether a guy is a freshman or a senior,” said Mauro. “Seniors traditionally don’t want to be bothered with a freshman. I don’t see that, and that’s a nice thing.”
The Blue Knights finished the 2017 regular season at 11-6 overall (6-4 home, 5-2 away), placing last in the CCC Central Blue Division with a 4-5 record in the CCC Central Region (0-4 in CCC Central Blue). They entered the Class LL Tournament with four singles players and three doubles teams, advancing a singles player as far as the third round and a doubles team as far as the second round.
The Knights lost seven of 26 players to graduation after last season. Six of those seven players were starters in the varsity lineup, and five of those players competed in the singles and doubles brackets at the Class LL Tournament. The team graduated 56 wins and 21 losses.
Seniors returning to this year’s team include Kevin Chudy (15-2 in doubles), Jacob Holbrook, Alex Klinzmann, Jonathan Kryzanski (15-2 in doubles), and Brett Rycki.
Chudy and Kryzanski are returning as the team’s top doubles team from last season and went 27-7 together as a doubles team over the past two seasons, advancing to the second round in the doubles bracket at last year’s state tournament. The pair was named as team captains for the upcoming season.
Mauro said that he himself is a man of many words, and Kryzanski is a man of a few words. He’s more of a silent leader who can prove his talent by simply showing you his game.
“I wish I was more like him,” said Mauro. “He’s really a nice kid. He’s got a forehand this year that you aren’t going to believe.”
Juniors returning include Matthew Balaoing (12-5 in singles), Mike Kwok, DJ Pestillo, and Nathan Zmarlicki (9-5 in singles). Kwok competed as a substitute in the singles bracket of last year’s state tournament.
Balaoing was the team’s top singles player last year and also represented the Knights at the state tournament. He advanced to the third round in the singles bracket, which was the farthest any Southington player had gone, where he fell in straight sets, 6-2, 6-0, to eventual Class LL singles champion, Evan Felcher of Staples.
Mauro said that Balaoing has gotten taller, physically, since last season, and his game has matured more, mentally, as well. But Mauro said that Balaoing has always been a very intelligent player.
“Even other coaches have commented to me that they noticed him knowing when to compromise his strokes and when to go for it,” said Mauro. “That’s something that’s hard to teach. He can do it all and has the complete package.”
Mauro said that he likes Zmarlicki’s approach to the game this year. But he said that Zmarlicki can’t get down on himself.
“He’s working extremely hard on that,” said Mauro. “I want him to learn shots, games, and matches that he’s played because you can’t do anything about it now. Once he gets that, he’s going to be really outstanding.”
Sophomores returning include Caelen Cain, Tyler Heidgerd, Ryan Klinzmann, Adam Kosko, Marek Kryzanski, Andrew Kudla, William Loose, Vatsa Sheth, and William Wadolowski.
Marek Kryzanski and Kudla broke into the varsity lineup midway through the season last year to fill in at doubles. Marek Kryzanski went 5-0 with various doubles partners and substituted for Zmarlicki in the singles bracket at last year’s state tournament, earning an 8-3 postseason win as a freshman to advance out of the opening round into the first round. Kosko also received some varsity time last year as well.
Notable newcomers include sophomores Ryan Daddona, Ethan Sutton, and Jacob Sutton. They are just three of 13 sophomores on this year’s varsity team.
Mauro said that this year’s team will be balanced between singles and doubles, but he said that the strength of the team could lean slightly more towards doubles.
“We have kids that are going to be putting so much pressure on the people that are in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th positions,” said Mauro. “Whenever you get your No. 3 doubles team that strong, you’re probably going to win almost every match, even against the heavy-hitting teams.”
Although doubles might be a team strength, Mauro said that he would like to see more aggressive play in doubles.
“That’s a potential problem,” said Mauro. “Most times when tennis players go out for the high school team, they hit so much from the baseline that they don’t really have much work in approaching the nets. The skill of doubles is different than the skill of singles.”
Following a realignment of the CCC, Southington is now in the West Colonial Division along with Conard, Hall, and NW Catholic. The West Patriot Division consists of Avon, Farmington, Glastonbury, and Simsbury.
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