Boys’ tennis in Mercer County is almost like football in Texas or lacrosse in Maryland.
The residents in the county are very passionate when it comes to tennis.
Mercer County communities are filled with indoor facilities, tennis obsessed families and year round players.
In this environment, local schools such as Princeton High School, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North build powerful boys’ tennis teams that are annually among the best in New Jersey.
Allentown High School, which is technically located in Monmouth County, is the outsider in this milieu.
Allentown competes in all sports during the school year in the Colonial Valley Conference, which is comprised mostly of Mercer County schools.
The Redbirds’ boys’ team often struggles against those powers, including in 2018 when Allentown went just 7-12.
But this spring, things could be different. Allentown expects to finish above .500 and perhaps even send a couple players to the NJSIAA individual tournament.
These heightened expectations are a result of the program’s strong singles trio in No. 1 Landon Strober, No. 2 Michael Maizel and No. 3 Daniel Galindo.
The Redbirds opened their season with a road match on April 1 at Steinert High School.
“We’re looking to do better,” said Allentown coach Daniel Fallon.
Strober, a senior, has been Allentown’s top player since his freshman campaign, and he qualified for the state tournament last year. In 2019, he should give the Redbirds consistent victories at the top of the card.
Last offseason, Strober did what the Mercer standouts do: trained at an indoor facility with a private instructor. The senior had heard about Marc Hill, a coach at the Hopewell Tennis and Swim Center, for years. Hill has taught some of New Jersey’s best players, including current Montgomery High School standout James Hopper.
Last spring after the season, Strober tried out for Hill’s clinic and impressed the coach with his groundstrokes. The senior trained in Hill’s clinic in the summer, fall and winter, and became a stallion. After almost two hours of practice on March 28 at Allentown, he was still bounding around the court on the balls of his feet.
“It’s really high intensity training,” Strober said.
Maizel didn’t need to change his offseason regimen, because he grew up like a Mercer kid. Maizel’s father, Ronnie Maizel, built a clay court in the family’s backyard when they moved to Millstone Township in 2002.
The father and son have been playing against each other for a decade, and Ronnie pulls no punches. When Maizel was younger, his dad beat him seven or eight out of every 10 matches. Now though, Maizel wins a majority of the matches.
That’s how he knows he’s ready to dominate the high school scene.
“I’m expecting good results,” Maizel said.
Galindo, a junior, played doubles for Allentown in his first two high school seasons. But after last year, he made a decision.
“I wanted to play singles,” Galindo said.
The junior played singles matches and drilled with a private instructor all offseason. He never played doubles. There was no plan B.
And in tryouts, he beat everyone but Strober and Maizel.
Galindo wanted to play singles because he wanted to take full responsibility for his results. But now it’s bigger than that.
Since Strober and Maizel should give Allentown two victories in most matches, the Redbirds will only need one more to clinch team triumphs. Galindo can be that one. The Redbirds’ season may swing on his performances.
The thought excites him.
“I’m hoping to be that tiebreaker,” Galindo said, smiling.