A year ago, the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team jumped into first place the first day of the state Prep B tournament only to come back to the pack to end up in a three-way tie for the title.
Sharing the crown with Pennington and Montclair Kimberley Academy left PDS head coach Will Asch feeling disappointed.
“I think sharing the title in most years is just as nice as winning it alone but it didn’t feel that way last year,” said Asch. “We had a big lead after the first day and we lost some tough matches in the finals.”
Last week, PDS didn’t leave anything to chance in the 2014 Prep B tourney, winning nine of 10 matches on the first day to clinch the title before the finals were even played.
The Panthers saw freshman Anupreeth Coramutla advance to final in first singles with senior Neeraj Devulapalli and sophomore Scott Altmeyer following suit at second and third singles, respectively. The second doubles team of seniors Hari Rajagopalan and Andy Erickson also made it to the finals.
In reflecting on his team’s performance, Asch acknowledged that he was expecting a much closer fight.
“On paper we looked like the best team; we knew we were better than Pennington, we had beaten them twice pretty easily,” said Asch, who got wins from Devulapalli and Altmeyer in the finals to end up with 11 points with MKA second with six and Gill St. Bernard’s third at four.
“MKA is usually very strong but I was talking to their coach and he said a couple of their seniors had not come out and they were in a down year. We all had strong teams but there wasn’t a dominant team. We had a few close wins on Sunday that could have gone either way.”
Seeing veteran star Devulapalli end his career with a title was a highlight for Asch.
“Neeraj played well; he had a tough second set on Tuesday and I was happy to help him work through it,” said Asch.
“He was down 4-3 and won 6-4. He didn’t have his best stuff but sometimes you have to win when you don’t have your best stuff. He was really dominant in his first and second matches. His forehand was working. His pet shot is a crosscourt forehand and it is a great weapon for him.”
The renaissance of Altmeyer at third singles was heartening. “Scott was one of the top ranked players in the middle states in the 12-and-under but he had some injury problems and got away from the game,” said Asch.
“He has gotten back into it. He loves to compete. He is relentless on the court, he just goes and goes. He plays fast; his matches are over while other guys are still in the first set.”
At first singles, Coramutla displayed his competitive drive. “Anupreeth didn’t play well in his first match on Sunday,” said Asch.
“In his second match, he had to play the No. 2 seed, Pete Daly, who everyone was saying was so good. Anupreeth blew him away. It was one of his days, he was doing everything we had practiced. Progress in tennis at a high level is not quick but he seemed to have incredible improvement. He was serving well and making all of his shots. He just couldn’t beat Jerry in the finals.”
The second doubles team of Rajagopalan and Erickson proved to be the X-factor for the Panthers.
“The second doubles was a real surprise in the Prep B,” said Asch. “They came from behind in the first round to beat Gill. Getting two wins from them really helped us stand out. We ended up winning nine of 10 matches on the first day and clinched the title. If they had lost in the first round, that would have put us at seven and a good team like Gill could have had two more wins.”
In Asch’s view, the team’s success was forged through its spirited training sessions.
“I think we have been having really good practices,” said Asch. “It was great having three singles players who were very competitive and enjoyed playing with each other. We had two very good doubles teams and they were able to practice a lot against each other.”
All in all, it was an enjoyable spring for the Panthers. “It was a great year all around,” said Asch, noting that assistant coach Ed Tseng also played a key role. “They were great kids, we had a lot of success and a lot of fun.”