Holmdel High School does not often lose boys’ tennis matches, let alone by a 5-0 final score.
Under coach Chuck Chelednik, the Hornets have been one of the best programs in New Jersey.
But on May 6 at the Park Avenue Tennis Center in Oakhurst, the Hornets met their match in the Shore Conference Tournament championship, losing to Marlboro High School, 5-0.
The defeat prevented Holmdel from repeating as Shore Conference champion, despite having six of seven starters back from last spring.
“I lost my top guy (from last year). That’s it,” Chelednik said. “But Marlboro is very talented up and down the lineup.”
Chelednik is not wrong.
In 2019, the Mustangs got back their No. 1 player from their 2017 Shore Conference championship team, junior Eitan Khromchenko, who did not play high school tennis last season. They also added Sayreville War Memorial High School’s top player from last spring, sophomore Vasista Linga, to their singles lineup.
The Hornets simply ran into a worthy adversary on May 6. But Holmdel is still in a class with Marlboro among the best teams in the Garden State. It also won’t have to see Marlboro again until the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, starting May 28 at Mercer County Park in West Windsor, if both teams get that far.
Holmdel has a great chance to make it back to Mercer County Park, where the Hornets fell, 3-2, to Mountain Lakes High School in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Tournament of Champions.
At 13-2 overall, Chelednik’s squad is in first place in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 standings. It has also won the Group 2 state title for four straight years, including with those same six starters a year ago. With so much experience and talent, Chelednik is still confident.
“They just have to be confident in themselves after today,” the coach said on May 6.
Holmdel lost top singles player Justin Wain after the 2018 season. Sophomore Krishna Kallakuri, a first doubles player last spring, leaped up to replace Wain at first singles.
“He got a lot better,” Chelednik said.
Last year’s second singles player, senior Alex Tsai, remained in his spot. Junior third singles player Arjun Menon also moved up from doubles.
Juniors Allen Yu and Jason Yan formed a new partnership at first doubles, but both started a year ago. Senior Brian Chu and freshman Aidan Kwong formed a new partnership at second doubles. Chu started in 2018, while Kwong is the only new starter on Chelednik’s card.
The group had success all year, and it didn’t look rattled after its shutout loss to the Mustangs. On May 6, the second singles match between Linga and Tsai was the only one to last three sets, so it was still going after the other matches had ended.
During the third set, the Hornets gathered against the fence, laughed among themselves and cheered on their teammate. These Hornets were not going to let one loss crush their spirit.
Chelednik has a lot of respect for Holmdel’s opponents in Central Jersey, Group 2 and in Group 2 in general. He mentioned Hopewell Valley Central High School, Summit High School and others as potential roadblocks.
But his players will be ready.
“Hopefully they’ll keep working harder and do better in states,” he said.