The Allentown High School boys’ tennis team earned the No. 4 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament.
That means the Redbirds landed a first-round bye and a home match in the quarterfinal round on May 15 against fifth-seeded Freehold High School.
Both markers qualified as progress for this underdog program. Allentown did not get a bye or a quarterfinal match on its home courts in any of the last four years, despite making the state sectional tournament each year.
Allentown keeps getting better under 10th-year coach Daniel Fallon.
That remains true even though the Redbirds lost narrowly, 3-2, to Freehold on May 15.
Allentown’s top two singles players, senior No. 1 Landon Strober and junior No. 2 Michael Maizel, both won their matches in straight sets. Strober didn’t even drop a game, winning 6-0, 6-0.
But the Redbirds lost the third singles match and both doubles courts. The whole match came down to a third set between the second doubles teams. But the Allentown team lost that set, 6-1.
The team defeat was reflective of Allentown’s season. In their losses to evenly matched opponents this spring, such as Freehold and Hightstown High School, the Redbirds struggled to find that third victory to clinch matches.
Strober and Maizel usually won, but the rest of the lineup had some trouble against stronger opponents. Mercer County, where Allentown plays most of its regular season matches, is one of the best tennis regions in New Jersey.
As a smaller school with few private clubs nearby, Allentown faces an uphill battle to compete with the likes of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South and Hopewell Valley Central High School. Allentown fell to all three rivals this year, and took only one contest between the three matches.
But in 2019, Allentown also clearly proved that it is better than the rest of the competition in its area. It won six matches, all by a 4-1 or 5-0 score.
Between that, the state sectional bye and the quarterfinal home match, Strober viewed the season as a success.
“I’m really happy with my last season here,” he said. “I loved every part of it.”
“The best memories I had in high school were being on this team,” Strober added.
Maizel agreed with his teammate. The season was a success. But like Strober, he also really wanted to advance and challenge top-seeded West Windsor-Plainsboro North in the state sectional semifinals.
“That would be great,” Maizel said after his match ended on May 15, when Allentown was up 2-1 overall.
“That would be fun,” he added.
Now though, it will have to be next year’s goal. The Redbirds have made the state sectional tournament five straight years now, though they have never been past the quarterfinals.
Strober will be gone in 2020. But the rest of Fallon’s lineup consists of juniors, like Maizel, and sophomores.
Third singles player Daniel Galindo, the first doubles team of Dennis Krasinets and Armaan Pruthi and the second doubles team of Aidan Marcario and Adam Gorstein will all be back.
A standard has been set, and now it’s their job to raise it.
“I’m expecting to be better than we were last year,” Fallon said before this season.
That goalpost has worked well for Allentown in recent years. It should again in 2020.