Successful athletes are often indoctrinated by coach speak, so they rarely acknowledge their very human desires to beat specific opponents.
The South Brunswick High School boys’ tennis players are not like that. These Vikings lost two matches in 2018, while they collected 16 victories.
But it’s the losses they remember, a defeat to John P. Stevens High School in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship match and a 5-0 decision to Montgomery High School in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament title match.
South Brunswick wants to win both titles this spring. The Vikings also want to beat J.P. Stevens and Montgomery to win the championships, and they are not afraid to say it.
“We’re looking to avenge (both losses),” said South Brunswick’s No. 2 singles player, Rushil Vishwanathan.
South Brunswick opened its season on April 1 at home versus Old Bridge High School. And before they exact revenge, the Vikings need to reach the postseason. But that shouldn’t be a problem.
Seven players started the sectional tournament championship against Montgomery. Six are back, including singles players Ashwin Kanetkar at No. 1 and Vishwanathan at No. 2.
“They really should anchor the team again this year,” said South Brunswick coach John Lolli.
Both players took offseason conditioning “very seriously,” Lolli added, and are “more agile, more powerful and better suited for longer, three set matches.”
The Vikings’ third singles player in that title match, Aryan Badgujar, is also back, but playing first doubles this spring. Juniors Sahil Sharma and Akshat Satija are competing for South Brunswick’s third singles spot.
Both beat Badgujar in tryouts in March, despite playing behind him a year ago. Badgujar has teamed up with South Brunswick’s best doubles player, senior Rohan Narayan, to form an overqualified top doubles team.
This speaks to the depth on South Brunswick’s roster and the ethos of competition that pervades successful high school programs. You must win to keep your spot.
Lolli, who also coaches the South Brunswick girls’ tennis team in the fall, plans on continuing challenge matches throughout the season. Whoever loses the third singles battle will have a chance to partner up with a doubles player and take on the starting teams in practice.
The coach loves that high school tennis is a pure meritocracy. He knows this will harden the Vikings for the biggest matches of their season. If anyone gets too comfortable, South Brunswick will have no chance versus Montgomery, a New Jersey power who won the last two Tournament of Champions state titles.
“It is the fairest sport,” Lolli said. “And this is a great group.”
The Vikings are so dedicated to avenging their losses that, after last spring, they knew they needed to try something different to go to another level.
So they made a request of Lolli that the coach’s previous teams had never made: they asked for access to the school’s weight room.
“It has always been an option, but no one ever wanted to take advantage of it before,” Lolli said.
These Vikings developed an offseason workout program that involved core, balance and endurance exercises.
“It shows that they are still stinging from losing last year,” Lolli said. “So they are doing everything they can.”