With the Scarsdale boys tennis postseason underway, the Raiders’ regular season success has translated into postseason success.
In the Section 1 Conference I Tournament, the Raiders entered two singles players and three doubles teams, of which one singles player and all three doubles teams advanced to sectionals by placing in the top five.
Senior Jose Maronilla took fifth place in the singles draw, while junior Nikolay Sahakyan and freshman Jason Shuler won the doubles draw, seniors Gus Thompson and Jordan Ziffer placed third and seniors Dylan Cohn and Jake Singer finished fifth.
“I would say that the level of play was pretty much the same in the tournament compared to the regular season,” coach Jennifer Roane said. “In our league, we are league champs. We had some easier matches than others and then I picked schools that were not in our league, like Horace Greeley, Edgemont, Harrison and schools that have very good programs, and we beat every school except Greeley.”
Based on the level of competition, Roane was confident her team was well prepared. “Anything can happen on any given day,” she said.
Thompson and Ziffer played an exciting match against the top seeded team from Mamaroneck, Charlie Levinson and Connor Aylett, whom Sahakyan and Shuler beat in the finals to earn themselves the No. 1 seed in sectionals this week. Although Thompson and Ziffer lost, they managed to stay in the extremely competitive match and put up a good fight. The final score was 7-5, 4-6, 10-6.
“I think what we were all surprised about was Gus Thompson and Jordan Ziffer,” Roane said. “They were seeded fourth in the tournament and they played a No. 1 seeded team from Mamaroneck, who was No. 1 in the state last year, and almost won. They even told their coach that they played out of their minds in that match. Sometimes when you have nothing to lose or you’re not a seeded team, you don’t have the pressure and you’re able to put it all on the line.”
Thompson has played in the postseason all four years of high school, providing him with experience in this highly competitive atmosphere.
“The level of play this year was on par with past years, if not better,” Thompson said. “The main difference for me this year was my own team’s quality of play. My partner Jordan and I placed third in the conference, which was my personal best.”
Roane constantly emphasizes the importance of communication throughout the season. It is almost impossible to be a successful doubles team without communicating with your partner, and this aspect of tennis is what separates the good from the great.
“They communicate almost better than anyone on the team,” Roane said of her No. 1 doubles team from the regular season. “It is really nice to see a team who has not played together communicate so well on the court, really help each other on the court, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
The partnership between Ziffer and Thompson has been a significant factor to the overall success of the team this season, despite this year marking the beginning of their partnership. Both individuals possess leadership skills and stellar game strategies and technique, which allow them to have a positive influence on the younger members of the team.
“Jordan and I are very close friends, so our communication throughout the matches really shows and helps us to elevate our game,” Thompson said. “In the conference tournament we held our service games, and limited our unforced errors throughout the matches. Although we lost in a third set tiebreaker, the match proved that we can compete with anyone in the state.
“I think one of the main things we can improve on prior to sectionals is our aggressiveness when returning serves. If we successfully pressure our opponents serves and consistently apply that pressure throughout the match we will achieve our goals.”
Thompson has benefited from playing four years of varsity under Coach Roane.
“Over the past four years I have really evolved my knowledge of the game,” he said. “This year I have noticed that I am able to anticipate the shots of my opponents, which allows me to successfully poach when I am at net. In my freshman year I remember having no understanding of the strategic element to doubles. However, with four years of experience under my belt I am now able to read my opponents and hit strategic shots rather than just keeping the ball in play.”
Freshman tennis prodigy Shuler, who played first singles with Sahakyan out due to injury most of the season, does not anticipate slowing down from his current level of play. Shuler thrived as a consistent singles player for the majority of the season, but teamed up with Sahakyan, a state finalist with Luke Smith last spring.
The win over Mamo earned Shuler and Sahakyan the top seed in the section, where only the top three go to states, so only the semifinalists have a chance.
“The quality of play has definitely improved each year,” Sahakyan said. “This year there are a lot of good kids and sectionals is going to be harder than the years before. In the conference tournament, what I did well was that I was able to stay positive so my partner Jason would also stay positive and I was also able to hold my serve consistently. Something that I would like to improve for sectionals is my play at the net. I feel like I haven’t been as aggressive as I would like to be.”
The fact that Shuler and Sahakyan beat the defending state champions — that’s who Sahakyan and Smith lost to last year — in the conference tournament is remarkable considering Sahakyan just recently returned to tennis activity, as a result of a prolonged injury.
Sahakyan feels as if his return to tennis has not been too overwhelming, as he has matured as a player by keeping focused during matches and not getting down on himself. He has also supported the team throughout the entire season, in an effort to help them win, and keep his head in the game prior to his return to the court.
“He was out for a good six weeks,” Roane said. “And when you’re not allowed to do any type of activity for that long your body starts to kind of get soft. He’s playing high level tennis. He’s playing singles with a lot of moving around and footwork that requires you to be in shape.”