It does not take long for Abhie Maharana and Rishikesh Singh to finish off challenge matches in boys’ tennis practices at North Brunswick Township High School.
The senior and the sophomore are very clearly the two best players in the Raiders’ program. They are, after all, the only two year round players on the varsity team.
Instead, their challenge is beating elite players from other Greater Middlesex Conference and Central New Jersey schools.
Maharana has been North Brunswick’s No. 1 singles player since his freshman season in 2016. But he only finished 8-8 in his junior campaign, 2018.
Singh earned the No. 2 singles spot as a freshman last spring for the Raiders. While he went 11-4 overall, he lost in the third round of the GMC tournament.
North Brunswick’s first year coach, Mark Fitzpatrick, is still figuring out the rest of his 2019 lineup. So for the Raiders to improve on their 6-6 record from a year ago, Maharana and Singh will have to win. A lot.
Fitzpatrick, who was North Brunswick’s junior varsity coach for the last 10 years, thinks both players can take a big step up this spring.
“Abhie grew taller and stronger in the offseason,” Fitzpatrick said. “And Rishikesh is more consistent with passing shots.”
North Brunswick will open its season with a road match on April 3 at Sayreville War Memorial High School.
Maharana and Singh will play on the first and second courts, respectively, as usual. Singh challenged Maharana in tryouts for the No. 1 spot. But the senior polished off the sophomore in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3.
It was a sign that he is ready to beat strong opponents in 2019. Maharana used a harder serve and groundstrokes to control rallies and finish points.
He cultivated both skills in United States Tennis Association tournaments during the offseason. In an effort to go up a level, Maharana played in more tournaments than he did in the past.
“He’s looking really strong,” Fitzpatrick said. “The maturity from all the matches he’s played is there, too.”
“I’m expecting to go far this year,” Maharana said.
Singh may have lost to Maharana during tryouts, but he dominated everybody else. Last year, Singh’s strength was his ability to get to most balls and hit them back.
But this spring, he is playing more aggressively. The sophomore also entered more USTA tournaments during the offseason, and he used the matches to develop his serve and groundstrokes.
Like Maharana, Singh is hitting harder and earning more winners than he did a year ago.
Singh posted a really good record just by continuing rallies last spring. With improved strokes, he can translate that success to the postseason in 2019.
“Yeah I’m trying to go further and get better,” Singh said. “I need to improve my strategy with placing the ball.”
“I’d like to see a strong showing from him in the GMC tournament,” Fitzpatrick said.
The coach wants to see the same thing from his team. He said the Raiders’ goals are to compete for the GMC’s White Division title and make the NJSIAA team tournament.
To do both, though, the Raiders will have to find a third singles player and figure out their doubles teams. Fitzpatrick said he has five or six other decent players. He is just not sure where they fit yet.
The coach will use the next week to craft chemistry from his talent.
“I think we have a strong team and can make a run at states,” he said.