Sports

Boys Tennis: Hot Start Has Smookler, Highlanders Thinking Big

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Gov. Livingston Boys Tennis placed fourth at the Union County Tournament. Credits: Gov. Livingston Tennis
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BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - As the 2017 regular season approaches the closing stretch, the Governor Livingston Highlanders boys tennis team has been one of the county’s pleasant surprises. As of April 30th, the Highlanders sit at 6-2 and have posted wins against some of the area’s stronger teams such as Morristown and Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

And to throw in a bonus (a major one at that), the Highlanders finished fourth out of 14 teams at the Union County Tournament.

Head coach Mike Smookler couldn’t have asked for a better debut in his first season coaching the team after one season coaching the girls team.

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Before the season began, Smookler raved about the way his team embraced him, and that positive energy has carried over into the regular season.

“I’ve been very satisfied with how we’ve played so far,” Smookler said. “One of our goals coming into the season was to have a winning record and if we keep playing the way we’ve played, we should finish with a winning record.”

Smookler doesn’t hesitate to admit that one of the team’s highlights was the the fourth-place finish at the counties which came a year after finishing seventh at the event.

Everyone in the lineup from the first singles to second doubles contributed to the team’s final ranking. First singles Harrison Joseph finished sixth, second singles Alex Woo finished sixth, and third singles Alec Polumbo finished fourth. As for the doubles, Ethan Fong and Carl Heer finished seventh in the first doubles while Andrew Hong and David Schwartzman teamed up for a third place finish.

“Going into the counties, we didn’t have many expectations,” Smookler said. “Our only expectation was to compete hard which the boys did.”

What Smookler has enjoyed about his team is how much they care about each other and support each other. Not only have the players supported one another but they’ve stood behind their first-year coach as well.

Smookler said he has had to make some tough coaching decisions that would have been met with groans from other teams but not this Highlanders team. The Highlanders have supported every decision Smookler has made and have gone out and played hard every match.

At the same time, Smookler’s contributions to this team cannot be understated. The Highlanders had their doubts regarding the season-opener against Morristown but it was Smookler who helped instill in his team the confidence that they could compete against a strong teams like Morristown.

“When the guys found out our first match would be against Morristown, there were some groans,” Smookler said. “But I told them the guys from Morristown are probably groaning about playing us too. So we started looking at our matches differently after that team meeting and it’s been a fun ride since.”

The Highlanders would go on to beat Morristown, 4-1, and used that win to propel them to strong wins over other teams such as Madison and Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

Smookler also points to the match against New Providence as a key point in the team’s season. Even though the Highlanders fell to their rivals, Smookler feels the loss did more good for the team than bad.

The Highlanders responded with four consecutive victories (Madison, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Dayton, Verona) and haven’t loss since.

“That loss against New Providence is really what catapulted us,” Smookler said. “I told the kids after that match that this is the kind of loss that can make us better and it did.”

“We beat Madison, 4-1, and proved in that match that we’re mentally tough enough. We followed-up the Madison win with another strong win against Scotch Plains-Fanwood and in our last match before the Counties, we swept Verona.”

The Highlanders have received contributions from everyone on the roster, including reserves such as senior Austin Lu and sophomore Chris Harriott who helped the team clinch the victory over Madison. Senior Patrick McNamara has also come in at times and given the team a big lift.

As the state tournament nears, it must continue to be all hands on-deck for Smookler and the Highlanders. Considering the mental makeup of this team, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“We have six matches left and I expect to win the majority of them,” Smookler said. “And once the state tournament gets here, I expect us to make some noise there as well.”

17 regular season approaches the closing stretch, the Governor Livingston Highlanders boys tennis team has been one of the county’s pleasant surprises. As of April 30th, the Highlanders sit at 6-2 and have posted wins against some of the area’s stronger teams such as Morristown and Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

And to throw in a bonus (a major one at that), the Highlanders finished fourth out of 14 teams at the Union County Tournament.

Head coach Mike Smookler couldn’t have asked for a better debut in his first season coaching the team after one season coaching the girls team.

Before the season began, Smookler raved about the way his team embraced him, and that positive energy has carried over into the regular season.

“I’ve been very satisfied with how we’ve played so far,” Smookler said. “One of our goals coming into the season was to have a winning record and if we keep playing the way we’ve played, we should finish with a winning record.”

Smookler doesn’t hesitate to admit that one of the team’s highlights was the the fourth-place finish at the counties which came a year after finishing seventh at the event.

Everyone in the lineup from the first singles to second doubles contributed to the team’s final ranking. First singles Harrison Joseph finished sixth, second singles Alex Lu finished sixth, and third singles Alec Polumbo finished fourth. As for the doubles, Ethan Fong and Carl Heer finished seventh in the first doubles while Andrew Hong and David Schwartzman teamed up for a third place finish.

“Going into the counties, we didn’t have many expectations,” Smookler said. “Our only expectation was to compete hard which the boys did.”

What Smookler has enjoyed about his team is how much they care about each other and support each other. Not only have the players supported one another but they’ve stood behind their first-year coach as well.

Smookler said he has had to make some tough coaching decisions that would have been met with groans from other teams but not this Highlanders team. The Highlanders have supported every decision Smookler has made and have gone out and played hard every match.

At the same time, Smookler’s contributions to this team cannot be understated. The Highlanders had their doubts regarding the season-opener against Morristown but it was Smookler who helped instill in his team the confidence that they could compete against a strong teams like Morristown.

“When the guys found out our first match would be against Morristown, there were some groans,” Smookler said. “But I told them the guys from Morristown are probably groaning about playing us too. So we started looking at our matches differently after that team meeting and it’s been a fun ride since.”

The Highlanders would go on to beat Morristown, 4-1, and used that win to propel them to strong wins over other teams such as Madison and Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

Smookler also points to the match against New Providence as a key point in the team’s season. Even though the Highlanders fell to their rivals, Smookler feels the loss did more good for the team than bad.

The Highlanders responded with four consecutive victories (Madison, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Dayton, Verona) and haven’t loss since.

“That loss against New Providence is really what catapulted us,” Smookler said. “I told the kids after that match that this is the kind of loss that can make us better and it did.”

“We beat Madison, 4-1, and proved in that match that we’re mentally tough enough. We followed-up the Madison win with another strong win against Scotch Plains-Fanwood and in our last match before the Counties, we swept Verona.”

The Highlanders have received contributions from everyone on the roster, including reserves such as senior Austin Lu and sophomore Chris Harriott who helped the team clinch the victory over Madison.

As the state tournament nears, it must continue to be all hands on-deck for Smookler and the Highlanders. Considering the mental makeup of this team, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“We have six matches left and I expect to win the majority of them,” Smookler said. “And once the state tournament gets here, I expect us to make some noise there as well.”

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