When Ridge High School’s Mike Liu took his junior year off to focus on academics and USTA play, he wasn’t sure he would come back to head the boys tennis team’s lineup.
He’s now the top seed at first singles for the Somerset County Tournament, which starts Friday at Green Knoll Tennis Courts in Bridgewater.
Earlier in the season, Ridge coach Chad Griffiths said the Red Devils (10-2) had a chance to go far this year, though they’re in the toughest section of the state (North II Group IV). Last year Ridge earned a third-place finish behind Somerset County champion Montgomery and runner-up Bridgewater-Raritan. The three programs again are top contenders for the team championship.
Second-seeded Montgomery junior Chris D’Agostino, who won the county title at third singles as a freshman and at second singles as a sophomore, is looking to achieve the triple crown — a title at all three singles position.
And Bridgewater-Raritan’s Eric Tai, the No. 3 seed, finished in second place at last year’s county final after losing to Montgomery’s Mitchell Ren, who graduated in 2012.
At second singles, the top seed is Watchung Hills’ Tristan Sun, who has an 11-3 individual record. Montgomery’s Kevin Xu is seeded No. 2, and Ridge’s Rahul Hingorani is the No. 3 seed.
“Sun has been spectacular,” said Watchung Hills coach Christopher Gibson. “The three losses occurred when he was injured and tried to play through it. He’s healthy now and I’m hoping for a big tournament.”
Gibson said his team is prepared for this year’s high-quality competition. The Warriors finished in fourth place last season.
“The elite county teams are Ridge and Montgomery,” Gibson added. “And Bridgewater has a complete team with a stud at No. 1 who could surprise everyone in the tournament. Hopefully, we’ll be able to gain valuable experience and surprise a few teams.”
At third singles, Mason Keel of Ridge is the top seed and Montgomery’s Ben Eckard is No. 2. Bridgewater-Raritan’s Andrew Statkevich as the No. 3 seed.
The doubles titles will likely be captured by the three elite programs — Montgomery (10-0), Ridge (10-2) or Bridgewater-Raritan (10-4) — that lead the pack.
Montgomery won both top seeds for doubles. At first doubles, Clark Chapman and Alessandro Sclapari are No. 1, and their second doubles teammates Howard Bi and Eric Epp also are the top picks.
Somerset County Tournament Pairings
Preliminary round: Josh Santibanez (North Plainfield) vs. Manny Bhagroo (Bound Brook); John Spicer (Immaculata) vs. Eric Oringer (Bernards); winner to play 1-Mike Liu (Ridge) in quarterfinal round.
Preliminary round: Julian Chartouni (Pingry) vs. Carl Brown (Gill); Alan Dogan (Hillsborough) vs. Kevin Liu (Franklin); winner to play 2-Chris D’Agostino (Montgomery).
Quarterfinal round: 6-Keshav Reddy (Somerville) vs. 4-Tim Gavornick (Watchung Hills); 3-Eric Tai vs. 5-Anthony Guglin (Rutgers Prep).
Preliminary round: Luis Orozco (North Plainfield) vs. Greg Esquivel (Bound Brook); Adarsh Balaji (Rutgers Prep) vs. Rakesh Chamala (Franklin); winner to play 1-Tristan Sun (Watchung Hills) in quarterfinal round.
Preliminary round: Mike Finian (Somerville) vs. Sean Roth (Immaculata); Justin Tran (Hillsborough) vs. Alec Rowe (Gill); winner to play 2-Kevin Xu (Montgomery).
Quarterfinal round: 6-Brian Li (Pingry) vs. 3-Rahul Hingorani (Ridge); 4-Teddy Apt (Bernards) vs. 5-Brian Chen (Bridgewater-Raritan).
Preliminary round: Michael O’Reilly (Pingry) vs. Franklin Orellana (North Plainfield); Marc Orazietti (Gill) vs. Martin Wawszkowicz (Immaculata); winner to play 1-Mason Keel (Ridge) in quarterfinal round.
Preliminary round: Alex Tang (Franklin) vs. Max Mendolsohn (Rutgers Prep); Reilly Brenn (Somerville) vs. Pedro Piexoto (Bound Brook); winner to play Ben Eckard (Montgomery).
Quarterfinal round: 6-Derek Ong (Watchung Hills) vs. 4-Jon Gillespie (Bernards); 3-Andy Statkevich (Bridgewater-Raritan) vs. 5-Jake Cohen (Hillsborough).
Preliminary round: Watchung Hills vs. Pingry; Rutgers Prep vs. Bound Brook; winner to play 1-Mongomery in quarterfinal round.
Preliminary round: Gill vs. Franklin; Immaculata vs. North Plainfield; winner to play 2-Ridge.
Quarterfinal round: 5-Somerville vs. 3-Bridgewater-Raritan; 4-Hillsborough vs. 6-Bernards.
Preliminary round: North Plainfield vs. Franklin; Watchung Hills vs. Immaculata; winner to play 1-Montgomery in quarterfinal round.
Preliminary round: Rutgers Prep vs. Bound Brook; Somerville vs. Gill; winner to play 2-Ridge in quarterfinal round.
Quarterfinal round: 5-Hillsborough vs. 4-Bridgewater-Raritan; 3-Pingry vs. 6-Bernards.