Freshman-laden Mars tennis team enjoying success
Youth is served for the Mars boys tennis team — literally.
The Planets have plenty of new faces on the squad this year, with four freshmen, two sophomores and a junior among their top singles and doubles lineup.
However, Mars is not playing like a bunch of rookies. The team was 6-4 and competing for a WPIAL Section 3-AA playoff spot heading into the last couple days of regular-season team play.
“We do have a young team. They are very skillful, though. They have worked hard this year,” Mars coach Chris Knauff said.
“They really don't play like freshmen. They do play a lot of tennis. Most of those guys play in the offseason and are tournament players. I think that kind of experience has helped them be more comfortable playing against juniors and seniors.”
Sophomores Tim Hunt and Noah Hudac are the team's lone returning players among the squad's top seven. Junior Nick Decamp, who transferred into the district prior to this year, is the oldest player, and four freshmen fill out the lineup.
Freshmen Josh Raymundo and Aaron Gruber are at No. 1 and 2 singles, respectively, and Hudac is at No. 3. Freshmen Alex Gruber (Aaron's brother) and Justin Simakas play at No. 1 doubles, and Hunt and Decamp are at No. 2 doubles.
“Josh is strong all over. He has a good serve and really controls the court. He does push his opponent around the court,” Knauff said.
“I think the rest of the team is consistent. They have pretty solid technique. I'd say that's their strength.”
Raymundo emerged as one of the WPIAL's top players this season. That was a pleasant surprise for Knauff, who is in his first year as head coach, but spent the last six as an assistant.
“I didn't know how good he was. Some of the underclassmen knew and they told me that not only was Josh coming, but some other good freshmen, too,” Knauff said.
“I was excited about this season and even more excited as we started in and got to see how talented they all are.”
Raymundo captured the Section 3-AA singles tournament. As the top seed, he beat Vincentian's Brad Martin, Sewickley Academy's Patrick Dellinger and Vincentian's Derek Chen to claim the crown. However, he had to withdraw from the WPIAL singles tournament because of an appendectomy. Chen captured the WPIAL title.
“Josh would have been probably the top seed going into the WPIAL tournament,” Knauff said.
“He definitely had a good chance to win that tournament. Chen is a very good player and went three sets with Josh in the section final.”
Recovered, Raymundo participated in the Section 3-AA doubles tournament. He and partner Aaron Gruber advanced to the championship, but dropped a 6-2, 6-1 decision to Sewickley Academy's William Kleeman and Colin Kaye. Nevertheless, the Mars duo moved on to the WPIAL doubles tournament, which starts Thursday.
Knauff is happy with his team's progress.
“We wanted to try and focus on this year. I think that we can be successful. It's hard not to say the next couple of years we really have a chance to make things happen,” he said.
“Our focus really is going to be working on doubles. Most of the time, when these guys are playing in the offseason, they are playing singles. Then, they come into the season and have to play doubles. It is a different game, and they have different partners. We can definitely improve there.”
The young Planets are not complacent. They are eager to work to improve their games.
“I think they all pretty much recognize the things they need to work on. We have conversations after their matches and talk about what they do well and what they need to improve on,” Knauff said.
“They are pretty good at answering their questions. I definitely think they have recognized areas they can improve and I think they will do that.”
Improvement is necessary, especially since Mars is in a tough section with Sewickley Academy, Hopewell, Knoch, Quaker Valley, Vincentian and Winchester Thurston. Sewickley Academy is a perennial WPIAL power, and Chen headlines a strong Vincentian squad.
Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.