Five Times on Top
When realignment put Abington Heights and Scranton Prep in the same division of the Lackawanna League in boys tennis, Comets head coach Tom Lavelle knew the match would generate excitement.
Both schools racked up long winning streaks and division titles over the previous four years, and Lavelle knew that beating the Cavaliers would be crucial in extending the Comets run of success.
Knocking off Scranton Prep, 3-2, in April set the stage for another great season for Abington Heights, which captured its fifth straight division title and pushed its winning streak to 55 matches.
"It was certainly a great accomplishment for our team to be outright champions," Lavelle said. "Scranton Prep is a great program and our matches with them always bring out the best in both teams.
"This year having been the first time competing against Prep in years and being aware that our last league loss was to them ,it goes without saying we are very happy," he continued. "Our team was very pleased to have walked away with a victory this year."
Jai Redkar delivered a win at Number 1 singles while the Comets teams of Eric Onofrey-Steven Sheilds and freshmen pair Riley Barrett-Sahas Chandragiri claimed the doubles points to seal the victory that ended the Cavaliers winning streak at 87 matches.
The win set the tone for the rest of the season.
"Jai's victory over Will Cognetti from Scranton Prep gave him much confidence heading into our post season," Lavelle said. "Our Number 2 doubles team of Barrett and Chandragiri having clinched the victory for us against Scranton Prep was a very important moment as well."
Redkar, a junior, led a title-filled season for the Comets.
"There are areas where we exceeded our expectations. It was a great individual accomplishment for Jai to have gone undefeated in league and district play as well as earning a singles district title," Lavelle said. "We had high expectations for Jai this year and he certainly exceeded them.
"Our team having gone undefeated and re-capturing a district title having lost to Delaware Valley in (District 2 Class AAA) semifinals (last year) was very gratifying for our team," he continued. "Earning two first-place district medals in singles and team, and three third-place medals, two in doubles and one in singles, speaks to the success our team experienced this season."
A preseason event in the middle of the state gave Lavelle reason to be optimistic about the season.
"Our ability to compete in Altoona against very high level competition gave our team much confidence that we brought with us into league and districts," he said.
That was where Lavelle saw that freshmen would be critical to the team's success. Rishi Mulloth and Brandon Ostrowski carved out positions behind Redkar in the singles lineup while Chandragiri and Barrett teamed at Number 2 doubles.
"Having four starters as freshmen succeed and play as well as they did in many pressure situations is always a valuable contribution to the team," Lavelle said. "It's not often that freshmen perform so well nor is it often that so many freshmen earn starting positions in a lineup.
"In many instances we needed to rely on them for our team's success, and they rose to the occasion," he added.
Shields, the lone senior starter, and Onofrey, a junior, were steady at Number 1 doubles.
"I would want to emphasize the important role Eric Onofrey and Steven Sheilds had to our team," Lavelle said. "They finished the season undefeated in Number 1 doubles and were a team that we could always count on to be reliable for us in our league and districts.
"They were led by Shields in his senior year and deserve much of the credit for our team's success," he continued. "They earned first-place honors in the Altoona Tennis Invitational and finished in third place in district doubles."
Losing only Shields from the lineup means that the Comets will be a favorite to repeat as division champion next year. With Redkar defending his district singles title, district semifinalist Mulloth and Ostrowski back in singles along with Chandragiri and Barrett, who took the Comets' lone point in a state team tournament first-round loss to Hempfield, and Onofrey, the Comets are loaded.
"We hope to continue to be competitive and look forward to our athletes improving in their game and gaining even more experience," Lavelle said.