Players crack all the time. Things don‚Äôt go right on the tennis court, the momentum slips away, and next thing you know the match is over.
Enter Josh Marchalik, Mr. Adaptability for East Brunswick High School.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs kind of where the downfall of most high school tennis players comes,‚ÄĚ Bears coach Allison Clay said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre not adapting and adjusting if things aren‚Äôt working well. And they tend to stick with it and then they lose their game plan, and they‚Äôre not thinking on the court. Josh is constantly thinking, and I think that‚Äôs essentially is what setting him apart from his peers and why he was able to come out on top last year.‚ÄĚ
Marchalik enters the 2016 season as the defending NJSIAA singles champion and the Greater Middlesex Conference champ. Winning as a junior is great, but that means all eyes are on you. No more under the radar. And that‚Äôs fine with Marchalik, who expects some challenges this season.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt see a huge difference because for me, since freshman year my expectation has been to win every match,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúLast year I was just able to put it all together.‚Ä¶ I think that going in as the guy that needs to be beat, for me, could be actually a little tougher because a lot of people have the tendency to rise to the occasion. So I think this season could be a lot tougher in that sense. But I think at the same time, it‚Äôs nice to look at the whole field of players and be considered the best one there.‚ÄĚ
It wasn‚Äôt like Marchalik came out of nowhere to win his titles last season. As a sophomore in 2014, he captured the GMC crown and reached the fourth round of the state singles tournament. Last season, though, he beat two previous state champs ‚ÄĒ Highland Park‚Äôs Maverick Lin, the 2013 winner, and Holmdel‚Äôs Michael Chen, the 2014 winner. That‚Äôs how you become the guy to beat.
‚ÄúHe doesn‚Äôt miss much at all,‚ÄĚ Wardlaw-Hartridge coach Ron Haynes said. ‚ÄúOn our level, he‚Äôll be like the Novak Djokovic. He‚Äôs in position. It‚Äôs tough to get the ball by him. Plus, he‚Äôs got good offense. Also, what I notice about the guy ‚ÄĒ he doesn‚Äôt believe he‚Äôs going to lose.‚ÄĚ
Marchalik, who will play at Amherst College next year, said he‚Äôs been working on his serve and becoming more aggressive. He acknowledges that at 5-foot-9 and in the 150-pound range that ‚Äúa lot of the times that I walk out I‚Äôm not going to be the biggest or strongest kid on the court, so I have to beat them somewhere else.‚ÄĚ
He does it with pinpointing opponents‚Äô weaknesses on the fly. Especially if he‚Äôs losing, he said, ‚ÄúI know I have to change something up or do it in a different look. And it‚Äôs just about seeing which look they hate the most.‚ÄĚ
As Clay notes, ‚ÄúHe knows how to get under the skin of his opponents, both with his athletic ability, as well as with the mental games that he‚Äôs able to play on court as well.‚ÄĚ
East Brunswick, like most of the GMC teams, opens on April 1. Last season, the Bears finished 16-4 and tied with South Brunswick for second place in the Red Division behind J.P. Stevens. Freshman Abhimav Bhamidipati is scheduled to play second singles, and sophomore Vikas Dalal ‚ÄĒ who played first doubles ‚ÄĒ is projected at third singles. Senior Harold Trakhman, who played third singles last season, is moving to first doubles.
It will be Marchalik leading the way.
‚ÄúJosh is so consistent,‚ÄĚ J.P. Stevens coach Ellen Pisano said. ‚ÄúI mean, granted last year there were a couple matches where he almost lost. But he seems to just dig his way out of matches where you think he‚Äôs going down for the count. He‚Äôs just so, so consistent. So consistent. And it just drives a lot of people crazy.‚ÄĚ
J.P. Stevens returns five of seven players from a 20-2 team that reached the final of the North 2, Group IV tournament. Now, the Hawks hope to win their first sectional since 1979, as well as their fourth-straight GMC team championship. Just don‚Äôt ask head coach Ellen Pisano the lineup with 45 to 50 players trying out.
In fact, Pisano said, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt scrimmage because my best competition is right within my squad. We have a lot of depth. ‚Ä¶ The practices are awesome for us. They just push each other.‚ÄĚ
Last season‚Äôs No. 1 singles player Gokul Murugesan and No. 2 Vishal Walia ‚ÄĒ who won the GMC title ‚ÄĒ both return, and are jockeying for the top spot. Alex Telson, Arjun Krishnan and Gouttham Chandrasekar are in the third singles mix. Additionally, last season‚Äôs No. 1 singles player from North Brunswick, sophomore Kritik Kotharu, moved to Edison and is in the doubles mix. J.P. Stevens will play in an invitational tournament at Delbarton on April 9-10, which features some of the top teams in the state.
Don‚Äôt do a double-take if you see a Lin in Highland Park‚Äôs lineup. Star Maverick Lin graduated and is now playing at Cornell. But his freshman brother, Patrick. is poised to take the top spot for the Owls. In fact, coach Tim Stark has some young talent. Freshman James Ouyang is slated for second singles. At third singles, freshman Justin Ching and senior Leo Goldman are in the mix. Last season, Highland Park beat Metuchen to win the Central Group I title. Stark hopes to again take a stab at the title and finish in the Top 5 in the GMC Tournament.
Head coach Ron Haynes also has a mix of young and veteran talent. Satish Kumar, a junior, placed third in the GMC and reached the final 16 in the state singles tournament. Competing for the second and third singles are senior Gavin Huangis and freshman Dev Dasondi. Senior captain Akash Dalal is back at doubles and fellow rookie Eddie Zhang is in the doubles mix. Haynes‚Äô teams have won three straight White Division titles and should be in the hunt again.
The Falcons graduated a second doubles player. Other than that, coach Matt Olszewski has an experienced team back ‚ÄĒ with no juniors. Senior Amit Padmanabhan returns at first singles with sophomore Vikram Manisankar at second singles and senior Cian Desai is at third singles. Also back from last season are doubles players Vishal Gumidyala, Frank Sigismondo and Daniel Vudin.