Optimistic boys tennis team (had been) gearing up for a critical season

 We’re in arguably the toughest division in the state.”

  That was Coach George Kemery, before the whole COVID-19.

  But he was in no way doubting the ability of his upcoming 2020 boys tennis team. Although the roster spots of five seniors from the 2019 squad might seem hard to replace, senior captains Pranay Jaggi and Sudhish Devadiga couldn’t be less worried.

  Jaggi began playing tennis at a young age, and cites his father as a major influence in his decision. He’s been playing competitively ever since seventh grade, and hasn’t looked back since.

  Devadiga came onto the tennis scene a little later, beginning competitive play just before the start of his freshman year. The late start obviously did not limit his potential, as he quickly emerged as one of the program’s top players.

  The two best friends head into the 2020 season as seasoned veterans, ready and eager to teach younger players the ropes of competitive high-school play.

  “This year, the freshmen have a very open mindset,” Devadiga said. “Whenever we’ve invited them to come and hit with us, they’ve been pretty dedicated and have shown up almost every single time. That shows that they have a lot of potential to grow, and hopefully they can make up for the spots that we lost last year.”

  Kemery is in his seventeenth year as head coach of the tennis program, and plans to continue coaching into the foreseeable future. Some of his favorite aspects of coaching include the team’s strong sense of family, looking out for his players, and rallying the team together in moments of decline. This season, Kemery hopes that his squad emerges out of Group IV victorious, or at least puts forth a valiant effort.

  “To emerge from this division having beaten each other up (Group IV teams) is one of our goals,” he said. “Expectations are to push deep into the playoffs, like we always do.”

Varsity competitions are structured as a five-point format, with three singles matches and two doubles matches. Whichever team takes the majority of those five matches, wins that day’s meet.

  One of Jaggi’s favorite career moments thus far came during a critical 2-2 point against Rancocas Valley last year, which he ultimately won. It came as a sort of personal revenge, as he had lost a similar point against Cherokee in a prior season.

  Dominating on the court of course requires superb physical abilities, but tennis is arguably just as much about the mind as it is the body.

  “For doubles it’s a little more mental than physical, but for singles I’d say it’s an equal split between the two. In singles, you have a lot of court to cover by yourself, and it’s also more mentally draining because you don’t have a partner to talk to when you’re in those tough mental situations. In doubles, you have someone most of the time that you can rely on,” Devadiga said.

Senior Seth Drachman is another important figure for the team’s upcoming season. While he is currently a member of the JV squad, he figures to make the leap to varsity this year, and provide a fresh, motivated face for the varsity team.

  When Drachman gets into a rhythm, he can be a powerful force to be reckoned with on the court. He often looks back at a particular county tournament match, where he felt that he was hitting perfect shots every time, and aims to recapture that same feeling in every point he competes in.

  Over the lengthy offseason, which extends from June to March, some Eastern players have been working out and practicing at the indoor Berlin Voorhees Tennis Center. Staying generally fit is a team priority, but the varsity squad is committed to honing and expanding their tennis skills as much as they can.

  “Unless you count chess as a sport,” Devadiga added with a chuckle.

  As Jaggi, Devadiga, and Drachman will be moving on to college in September, they understand that their high-school careers are nearing conclusion. But for all three, this final campaign does not represent a match point. In a collegiate setting, they plan to take a shot at the competitive team, but will fall back on club play in the event that the competition becomes too stiff.

  Before the upcoming season comes into full swing, Jaggi offered a prelude for the highly-anticipated year ahead.

  “It’s always great to have a young roster,” he said. “You lose a lot of seniors and your team becomes a little bit weaker, but you also gain a lot of young freshmen who are very passionate about playing. We have a great group of guys, and hopefully we can lead them to victory this year.”