April 17, 2024

PDS Boys’ Tennis Featuring a Revamped Lineup, Giving Players the Chance to Step Up in New Roles

By Bill Alden

With a drastically revamped lineup, it is going to be a season of opportunity for the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team.

“We graduated four seniors from last year and Heyang [Li] has gone to focus on his training,” said PDS head coach Michael Augsberger, whose first singles star Li won his flight at the Mercer County Tournament last year as a sophomore. “He is training in Florida and he is training here. We miss him. It is a chance for the other guys to step up.”

At first singles, Jaylen Peng is stepping up, moving into that spot after playing doubles in 2023.

“Jaylen has a lot of tournament experience, he has won at the Prep B level,” said Augsberger, whose team edged Lawrence High 3-2 on April 9 to improve to 2-0. “He has already been in the highest tension matches that you can imagine, having to go through a tiebreak in the third set to win Prep B for us two years ago in second doubles. It is hard to find a more pressure-packed moment than that. He likes to use pace, it is really hard to stop. What he is learning is that the first singles guys in this area don’t falter as much as the second doubles and first doubles guys do when you pump up the pace. He is learning to shape shots a little more and make sure he extends points long enough to be able to pounce on the right forehand. It is a new situation for him, he is up for the challenge. He has clearly got the skill set for it.”

Another senior, Steven Li, is also facing a challenge this spring as he has risen to second singles from doubles.

“He played Newark Academy to a third-set tiebreak in the state final last year with Oliver,” said Augsberger. “He knows pressure as well. I have always seen him as more of a singles player anyway which is good now that he is getting his chance. He has played a lot of third singles in the past when guys were away. His game is really suited for that kind of style, like a grinding, long point play. His movement is really strong. It is good that he able to range the whole court now. He is consistent and he understands how to use height on balls to get people back. He is a creative player.”

The Panthers have added a really good player in freshman Abhishek Srinivasa, who is competing at third singles.

“We are really proud to have him; after we won against Lawrence, I told him that it is clear that he is a tennis player and also someone who is able to know how to win points when the going gets tough,” said Augsberger. “Those things aren’t always easy to find in the same person. He has got the strokes, he also knows how to win and grind. Against Lawrence and their third singles player, he was able to figure it out and he also lasted a bit longer.”

At first doubles, a pair of sophomores, Avi Saran and Arjun Bhardwaj, look like they will be tough to beat.

“Avi is one of the vocal leaders in the locker room, he sets the tone in terms of a healthy confidence for the team,” said Augsberger. “Avi and Arjun’s personalities really jell. Playing together, they both have that sort of mindset where they want to intimidate where they can. They want to play aggressive tennis, which is really good for your first doubles squad. They are going to have to grow into the role. They are definitely going to find times this year where they are challenged, especially in this conference. What is interesting for them to self-discover how do they deal with it when they to be not so aggressive.”

The second doubles pair of sophomore Max Levy and freshman David Gajewski have been coming together.

“Max really takes the leadership there, he led the doubles team to coming back and almost winning that match in a tiebreak against Lawrence,” said Augsberger. “Arjun and Max are the two guys that could make it on a lot of different varsity squads but last year we just had so many players They were the two guys that had the patience from last year to say it is not our time yet and they both improved immensely. We are looking for Max to go take charge of that team whoever he is paired with. Right now it is Gajewski because he was the player who was committed to the team. He came from day one, knowing that he had a learning curve. He is a soccer player who wants to play tennis. He has learned exponentially quickly, that is not a surprise because he is a PFC travel team player so he is a very high level soccer player. That is exactly the athlete you want at a place like second doubles.”

With the Mercer County Tournament starting on April 22 at the Mercer County Park Tennis Center, Augsberger believes his squad can produce some high level tennis at the competition.

“It is a really strong field, I think this year there are spots where we can do damage,” said Augsberger, whose team plays at Hopewell Valley on April 18, at the Pennington School on April 19, and at the Hun School on April 20 as it tunes up for the county tournament.

“With the team that we have, it is possible with the right draw, we can have guys on the second day.”