Boys Tennis preview: Ready for the challenge

Co-captain Nate Zmarlicki returns as a leader in singles play. Southington is looking to have a big season this spring.

By KEVIN ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

Southington boys tennis put together a solid 12-5 regular season in 2018, but it is looking to be even better this year.

To do so, the Blue Knights will have to get past teams in their division—the CCC West—that are perennial powerhouses.

“They’re tough, they’re very tough, but we’re tough too, and I think we’ve got a chance,” coach Tony Mauro said at a preseason practice.

Southington is tough enough, and good enough, to be one of the best teams in boys tennis program history, according to Mauro.

“They’re very competitive, they’re very focused,” Mauro said. “They take responsibility, they know what I expect, they know what I want.”

Any successful team must have a strong foundation, and the Knights have it with five captains. The captains are seniors Matt Baoloing, Nate Zmarlicki, Mike Kwok and DJ Pestillo, along with junior Adam Kosko. Those seniors push their teammates to be competitive, but they have different ways of doing so.

“Everybody has a thing that they’re strong in, whether it’s communication or leadership,” Mauro said.

Kwok is someone who will speak up and keep teammates in line. Others help with texting the team about emails from Mauro, 87, who doesn’t text. Messages are relayed from coach to captains to the team.

The top returning players for Southington are Balaoing, Zmarlicki, Kwok, junior Marek Kryzanski, junior Andrew Kudla, junior Tyler Heidgerd, Kosko, and sophomore Kyle Naworol. Balaoing is a smart, skilled player who plays No. 1 singles. He was an All-CCC West honoree last year.

“He’s been the No. 1 since his sophomore year,” Mauro said. “His brother was No. 1 during his freshman year.”

To earn spots, players go through what Mauro called an extensive challenge system. Round robins are held for players 1-8 and 9-16. Some players have told Mauro that the challenge matches are tougher than actual matches against opponents. The Knights are very competitive against each other, and they need to be tested in order to face the rigor of the CCC West schedule.

“I’m good with that,” Mauro said of playing the top teams. “I would rather play them than play the weak teams. I want the competition, and I want [the players] to experience it.”

The top returning players have been challenged by a group of eight newcomers. Those newcomers are Pestillo, junior Vatsa Shehth, junior Ethan Sutton, junior Jacob Sutton, junior Kade Huang-Savino, junior Will Loose, junior Ryan Klinzmann, and sophomore Pio Castillano.

Southington will have to replace the talented No. 1 doubles team of Kevin Chudy and Jon Kryzanski, an All-CCC West pairing that was lost to graduation. The Knights do return plenty of depth, however, and they’re hoping to climb up the CCC standings this spring.

Southington was off to a busy start in the first week. The Knights played East Hartford on Wednesday and Bristol Central on Thursday. On Friday, Southington hosts Rocky Hill at 3:45 p.m.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com

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