BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - As the Governor Livingston boys tennis team preps for the 2017 season, there’s some newness within the program.
After one season coaching the girls team, Mike Smookler enters his second consecutive season coaching a new team.
While adjustments will be required on both Smookler’s and his players’ part, Smookler couldn’t be more proud at how his players have embraced him.
“There’s a lot of positive energy in this program right now,” Smookler said. “The guys have been gun-ho since day one and have shown so much enthusiasm about this season. I’m really looking forward to a strong season.”
Making things easier for Smookler is that fact that he’s inheriting a mostly-veteran squad. In some cases, a first-year coach and a veteran core are bad mixtures. But in this case, it’s been the complete opposite. Each of Smookler’s players has embraced him and his coaching style with open arms, which is a reason why Smookler has a special feeling about this season.
“The guys are sponges when it comes to the coaching we give them,” Smookler said. “They’re all very coachable and eager to try whatever we tell them. As long as we keep that attitude we’ll be fine.”
Manning the number one singles spot will be junior Harrison Joseph, who Smookler said is as consistent as they come.
“Harrison is very consistent and has a knack for getting under the skin of opponents,” Smookler said. “Harrison has great strategy and ball placement which are going to help him get a lot of victories for us.”
At the number two singles spot will be Alex Woo, who is currently on the mend. Woo broke his collarbone in a freak sledding accident and is scheduled to return from his injury in the coming weeks. But what Smookler saw from Woo before his injury is what has him excited.
“Alex was looking good out there on the court before the injury,” Smookler said. “He’s one of our leaders and the other kids really gravitate towards him. He knows a lot about the game.”
At the third singles will be junior Alec Polumbo, who Smookler praised for his boundless energy.
“Alex brings a lot of energy to practice every day,” Smookler said. “He can hit all the shots and is very coachable.”
Freshman David Schwartman and senior Andrew Hong will team up at the first doubles spot.
“Just a freshman, David has been a pleasant surprise for us,” Smookler said. “He’s got great strokes for a kid this young and I’m really looking forward to the coaching him for three more years.”
“Andrew has a very consistent game, likes to attack the net, and is very athletic. He brings a business-like approach to the court and is a good match with David.”
At the second doubles will be a pair of seniors in Ethan Fong and Patrick McNamara.
“Ethan and Patrick both have different strengths and we get great energy from both of them,” Smookler said. “The two have good chemistry and I believe they’ll improve as the season progresses.”
Rounding out the lineup is junior Carl Heer, who will alternate between singles and doubles.
“Carl is a tall kid that is considered more of a doubles player,” Smookler said. “He’s been showing great ground strokes and he’s slowly but surely adding more weapons to his game.”
The Highlanders will once again face the traditional juggernauts such as Westfield and New Providence among others. Smookler said if his team competes the entire season like they have up to this point, they’ll be just fine regardless of the opponent.
“I expect us to continue to represent our town and school well,” Smookler said. “We’re going to fight until the last point.”