James Hopper didn’t come into the season thinking he would wind up playing for the NJSIAA state singles tennis tournament championship.
In fact, for the Montgomery High School senior it was one of the furthest things from his mind when he first started his scholastic career.
“If you had told me my freshman year that I was going to win three state (team) championships in a row and be in the finals of the singles championship my senior year, I would have told you that you are crazy,” Hopper said. “It was a great season and a great four seasons, actually.”
As the Cougars’ first singles player, Hopper helped the powerful prorgam to a third straight Tournament of Champions state title.
He went on to reach the final of the state singles tournament, where he fell to Newark Academy’s Alex Kotzen, 6-1, 6-3.
Hopper, who was the only player to defeat Kotzer this season when he won at the Newark Academy Invitational earlier this spring in Livingston, was the No. 4 seed in the tournament, while Kotzen was seeded third. Kotzer finished the season winning three of the four matches between the players.
“It was definitely a great season,” Hopper said. “I could not have asked for anything else for my senior year. It would have been great to finish out winning the singles title. Alex is a great player. I knew that going in and I knew it would be tough match. I can’t really hold my head down. I did my part throughout the season and we ended with another great state championship run.”
The Montgomery doubles team of Rohit Vadodaria and Andy Li reached the final of the state doubles tournament, where they dropped a 6-4, 6-3 decision to Newark Academy’s Drew Flanagan and Aaron Ramos. The Montgomery duo had beaten their foes from Newark Academy twice during the season, but suffered their first loss of the season in the doubles final.
Montgomery defeated Newark Academy three times this spring, including a 3-2 triumph in the Tournament of Champions state final on May 31 at Mercer County Park, West Windsor.
For Hopper, the climb up the tennis ladder for the Cougars was rather remarkable. He played fourth doubles on the JV team as a freshman before moving to first doubles on the varsity as a sophomore. He played second singles a year ago before ascending to the top spot this year.
“A lot of things came into it,” Hopper said of his steady improvement on the court. “I played soccer throughout my life until I was about 13 years old and then I chose to only play tennis from there on out. It had only been one or two years my freshman year since I had been taking the sport 100 percent seriously. I got a little bigger and I started to take the fitness side of it more seriously. I was spending more hours in the gym. I think it was focusing more on tennis completely that played a big part in it.”
He made steady progress each year and each year took another step forward in the Cougars’ lineup.
“Last year I played second singles and it was just another year of gaining experience for me,” Hopper said. “I was getting better and I put in a lot of hours in the high school tennis offseason. I was playing a lot more national tournaments and getting a lot more exposure to higher levels of play.
“Between my sophomore and junior year there was a bigger jump. I felt like I improved as an entire player coming into my junior year of high school. I felt like I had almost gone to the next level and had the ability to do things at certain times. The team was able to rely on me more my junior year.”
Hopper’s strong senior season helped the Cougars have another standout year on the court as they won the Tournament of Champions. They managed to do so with some new pieces in the lineup.
“We lost our first doubles team, Chris (Guo) and Will (Camper), and we lost Ishaan (Ravichander at first singles), who went to California,” Hopper said. “Even before we knew Ishaan was leaving, we knew Chris and Will wouldn’t be there because they were seniors. But we knew we still had a strong team this season because we knew we had the foundation of the team and we had a lot of strong players. So we knew we had a shot going into it.
“As the season came around and we started playing the other competitive teams in the state at the Delbarton School and the Newark Academy tournaments, we saw that we could do it again if we kept our minds focused on our game and being strong and being there as the whole team supporting each other.”
For Hopper, the season caps off a career he never could have envisioned four years ago.
“I am extremely grateful and thankful that I am lucky enough to go to Montgomery and be at a high school where tennis is one of the stronger sports,” he said. “I have many friends from USTA tournaments that are at the same level as me, but just not at as strong of a school and didn’t get a chance to play for a state championship.”
Hopper will next play at Case Western Reserve University, where he hopes to duplicate his success with the Cougars.
“They have a very strong program,” Hopper said. “I am looking forward to it a lot. They have a bunch of great guys on that team as well as in my recruiting class. The goal there as well is to win that national championship. It will be tough because there are a lot of good schools out there. But from the conversations I have had with the coach we have a shot if can pull it all together.”