Holmdel has had a secure grip on Shore Conference tennis the past four seasons.
For head coach Chuck Chelednik, the goal this year was to not only continue dominance of the conference, but also to succeed on the state level.
It was par for the course for the Hornets at the Shore Conference Tournament and the Monmouth County Flights Tournament this season as they won both titles and gained loads of confidence heading into the NJSIAA Tournament.
“I knew coming into the season that we had a good chance to take those tournaments,” Chelednik said.
After a tough loss to Millburn in the NJSIAA Tournament last season, the Hornets were fortunate to be moved from Group III to Group II last summer as part of the NJSIAA’s annual group reclassification.
“I knew moving down to Group II we would have a better shot of winning the title,” Chelednik said. “We still weren’t taking anything lightly though. There are still some good teams in Group II.”
After a strong run to get to the Group II championship match against Haddonfield, the teams goals were in sight. The match came down to their first singles leader, junior Derek Liu, who was battling severe cramps in the deciding third set.
“Even if he was cramping up, he was the one I wanted out there for us,” Chelednik said. “He is the ultimate team player, and would do anything to try and help the team win.”
According the Chelednik, who has been coaching for 14 years, it was one of the craziest matches he has ever been a part of.
Liu would eventually go on to win the third set in a tiebreaker and give Chelednik his first NJSIAA group championship in over a decade.
“It was nice to see he was able to not only do it for our team, but for the entire school as well,” Chelednik said.
Holmdel would eventually fall to Millburn in a Tournament of Champions semifinal match.
Expectations are high for next season even though several players from this year’s team have graduated, including the dominant first doubles teamof Mike Li and Ganesh Natarajan.
However, both Liu and second singles player Mike Chen return. Chen, had a standout freshman season went undefeated in conference play.
“We will have those two back, and they will be arguably the best one-two combo in the state,” Chelednik said. “It will be a matter of some of the younger kids stepping up and getting our doubles straight.”
The Hornets have always been known for their depth and strong doubles play, but according to Chelednik they have graduated 13 seniors in the past two years.
“Our doubles may not be quite as strong as we have been in past years,” Chelednik said. “We might have to rely more on singles as a team, but it has been great to watch Derek and Mike continue to get better everyday.”