The Mountain Lakes boys tennis team is enjoying another outstanding season this spring, having won 14 of its first 16 matches while finishing in a tie for third place at the Morris County Tournament.
Now with a big match against Delbarton on the schedule for Tuesday and the state tournament set to kick off later this week, the Lakers are simply hoping to get healthy.
In their match on Friday against Pingry, the Lakers played without their entire singles lineup — all of whom sat out with an assortment of injuries — as well as one of their doubles players, in suffering only their second defeat of the year.
The defending Liberty Conference champions were without the services of singles players Derek Chen (shoulder), Josh Kirschenbaum (back) and MCT third singles champion Jeff Hill (back). All three are hoping to be back in the lineup tomorrow when the Lakers challenge MCT champion Delbarton.
“It’s a bit too early to tell who will be back but we’re certainly hoping for the best,” said Mountain Lakes coach Ginny O’Donnell, who is in her 14th year. “We’d love to have them all back as soon as possible but we also know that bigger things are ahead and we have to make sure we enter the states completely healthy.”
Mountain Lakes competes in North 1 Group 2 and is again likely to be among the top seeds. The Lakers have not won a sectional title since 2003 despite several trips to the final and must find a way to get past nemesis Pascack Hills.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve won a (sectional) championship,” said O’Donnell. “Our goal from the start of the season was to win our conference, have a strong showing at the county tournament and challenge for a sectional title. If we’re healthy, I think we have a shot.”
When healthy, the Lakers boast a balanced lineup led at the top by Chen. The junior, who was 18-4 at second singles last season, has fashioned a 9-5 record at first singles. He lost in the MCT quarterfinals to Morristown-Beard’s Pete Daly but has been competitive in nearly every match.
Kirschenbaum, 18-3 at third singles a year ago, has made a successful jump to second singles, where he is 10-3. He lost in the MCT semifinals but his biggest win of the season came against Montville’s Andrew Kim in a three-setter that allowed the Lakers to earn a 3-2 decision over the Mustangs.
Perhaps the biggest story of the season to date has been the performance of Hill at third singles. The 6-foot-5 senior made the jump from first doubles to singles and captured the MCT third singles title. He has lost just one match all spring.
“Jeff practiced all year so he could make the jump to singles,” O’Donnell said. “He has a very strong serve and has learned to play the singles game. He’s really worked hard to make himself a great singles player.”
Mountain Lakes’ doubles teams have also enjoyed their share of success on the court this spring. Three-year starter Jackson Whang has teamed with freshman Theo Lorand at first doubles to post a 12-2 record while senior David Khalev and junior Eric Chow have combined to post a 9-3 record at second doubles.
The qualifying cutoff date for both the NJSIAA team tournament and the singles and doubles tournament was last Tuesday. Play begins this week with sectional finals slated for on or before May 20.
The group championships will follow at Mercer County Park in West Windsor on May 22. The Tournament of Champions begins May 28 and concludes with the final on May 30.
After a state team champion has been crowned, the focus will shift to the singles and doubles tournament which begins with the first two rounds of play on the weekend of June 1-2. The singles and doubles finals are slated for June 6.