By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury — With just one senior and a trio of juniors on the St. John’s High varsity tennis team, it could be construed that this 2017 edition is one that will be a work in progress with wins not always easy to come by for a mostly younger collection of athletes.
So when the squad burst from the gate with a 3-1 record, these Pioneers emerged as a potential powerhouse as they have been for so many years under the tutelage of veteran head coach Ed Hippert, one of the area’s most respected coaches in the game. Hippert’s teams are always in or near contention for area titles and this season may be no exception. Over his 17 years of coaching, there have been four state championships and numerous district titles. In addition, the program has produced many individual singles and doubles champions both at the district and state levels.
“We’re very young and inexperienced in terms of depth and people back from last year,” said Hippert, who is once more assisted by brother Gerry Hippert. “That happens. The younger kids are really being pushed into the action right now. They’re learning and they’re great kids and they’re trying to produce. But we lack in experience. Hopefully, as the season goes on, we can be okay.
“The expectations of a lot of kids was to simply make the team and a lot of them are happy to be playing every day with us. We do have some young and talented kids that we know are going to improve. These kids truly love tennis and that’s a good thing right from the start. They bring a liking of the sport which I like. Practices have been very good and we’ve seen a lot of improvement since we’ve been together over the past month.”
Hippert is always looking for the best lineup configurations each time out and so far has leaned on junior Alex Zhou as first singles, junior Brahim Yatim as second singles and sophomore Pranay Pherwani as third. Each has produced favorable results in their early-season matches.
Doubles pairings look strong with sophomore Akshay Gopinathan teaming up with fellow sophomore Syon Khosla for first while the second doubles combination of Matt Oliveira and Max Yan, sophomore and freshman, respectively, has performed admirably.
Looking ahead to the upcoming matches may give players and coaches pause with BC High, St. John’s Prep, reigning state champion Westborough and other powerhouse teams staring them head on.
“We play a very difficult schedule,” affirmed Hippert. “There aren’t any ‘cupcakes’ on there so any time we can get a ‘W’, that’s a really good thing.”
“We’ve become a very close-knit team. We have a lot of team bonding,” explained Yatim, a junior co-captain. “Because we’re young, maybe we don’t show a lot of promise right now but by the end of the season of next year when we have a lot of returning players we’ll be able to build on what we’ve accomplished.
“It’s good to get off to a good start, especially for the younger kids who don’t have a lot of experience playing. If they can get a couple of wins under their belt and get into a groove, that will be great. We have good players but sometimes high school tennis brings some nerves so to get some early wins often makes the nervousness go away.”
Members of the 2017 St. John’s High varsity tennis team are senior Liam Brown; juniors Brahim Yatim, Alex Zhou, Jack O’Leary; sophomores Akshay Gopinathan, Pranay Pherwani, Matt Oliveira, Andrew Fraser, Will McMahon, Jack Durkin, Syon Khosla and freshmen Jack Romine, Brad Schlapak, Abhay Siling, Arjun Hegde, Max Yan, Dawie Huo, Surya Suresh, Aakash Koduri and Max Vinzi.