No. 1 Newark Academy rolls to Non-Public B state title, enters TOC as top seeded team


Twenty-one teams had taken a run at defending TOC champion Newark Academy before Friday’s state group finals at Mercer County Park and none had come away with a win. On Friday it was Ranney’s turn as the Panthers challenged the Minutemen for the state Non-Public B championship. But Ranney would have no more success against Newark, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Top 20, than their predecessors as the Minutemen looked devastating in cruising to a 5-0 win.

That victory moves Newark Academy into the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions as the top seed. NA will host the winner of the 4-5 seed game between Group 3 winner Millburn and Group 2 champ Demarest on Wednesday at 2 p.m. back at Mercer County Park.

Newark Academy was playing without the services of its top singles player and runner-up in last year’s state singles tournament, Nicolas Kotzen, but you would never know it as the Minutemen unleashed a tennis tsunami on the Panthers to wrap up their second straight group title.

“I tell these guys that it’s always an honor to come down here,” Newark Academy coach Lou Scerra said of group finals day at Mercer County Park. “It’s the coolest day of New Jersey tennis. Twenty teams, six state titles, so we’re very lucky and honored to be down here and we’re lucky to have a bunch of kids that are excited to play team tennis.”

Newark Academy got the ball rolling by sweeping the doubles as Andy Nagpal and Saif Prabhu won first doubles 6-0, 6-3 over Thomas Boyan and Jett Pacifico and Ian Zhang and Jean-Luc Marchand won second doubles 6-1, 6-2 over Max Kelner and Reed Hall.

While Marchand and Zhang haven’t been playing together all season, because Nick Kotzen was out of the lineup due to injury for chunks of the schedule, the two had played together often enough to make for smooth sailing in their finals match.

“Nick was out for a lot of the first half of the season, so we’ve been playing doubles together and we’re used to each other,” Marchand said. “We kept balls deep. They didn’t have strong serves so it was very easy to break.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us to win,” Marchand added of playing on the No. 1 team in the state. “But we like it because when we step on the court, we have a lot of confidence. For me, sitting the bench last year was like motivation for me to now play.”

According to Scerra, it’s no surprise that his team was able to make such short work of the doubles matches.

“We try our best to be aggressive playing doubles, play smart doubles and move forward together,” he said. “We teach doubles and it’s something we pride ourselves on. So, regardless of what the combination happens to be, that’s what we preach. Then we go out and try to practice what we preach.”

As tough as the doubles teams are, the singles players for Newark Academy were as tough or tougher.

Josh Mandelbaum, at first singles, is the 2-seed in the upcoming state singles tournament and looked like it in defeating Ranney’s Braden Chavez 6-0, 6-2. Mandelbaum was fighting with his first serve through most of the match and Chavez played solid, and at times brilliant, tennis but none of that seemed to matter.

“He was really solid,” Mandelbaum said of Chavez after the match. “His forehand (was) really good. His returns, especially, were really deep and consistent. His second serve hit the line a lot. His consistency was really good. He had great accuracy. But at the end of the day, I just kind of overpowered him in the end.

“I was struggling with my serve but I just figured it out. I just tried to get my second serve in with a lot of kick and went out with my forehand cross, just went high heavy to his backhand a lot, opened up the court and hit a few angles. It was a good match.”

Newark Academy swept the remaining two singles as Andrew Kotzen defeated Ranney’s Oscar Chu 6-0, 6-1 at second singles and Ethan Palen defeated Max Golenberg 6-1, 6-2 at third singles.

Between the 22-0 record, the No. 1 state ranking, the group championship and the top seed at the Tournament of Champions next week, the remaining teams in the TOC have most certainly been put on notice that the Minutemen have no intention of relinquishing the overall state championship they won a year ago.

“We all come out with the same attitude,” Mandelbaum said. “We try to think that we’re the best team in New Jersey. We all think it. We all go out with the attitude that we think we are going to win. We’re confident but we can’t underestimate our opponents ever. We always have to go out and give it our all, 100 percent fight, just go out and grind it out.

“Our goal is always the same, just win. We want to win the TOC, we want to go undefeated again, we want to keep the streak. We just want to keep going, just keep the ball rolling. We want to keep winning. We want to give it our all every day in practice We try to get better. We just keep fighting.”

While the group final win turned out to be an easy one for the Minutemen, Scerra acknowledged that it came against a Ranney team that won a sectional title and went 19-3.

“Ranney’s a very good team,” Scerra said of his finals opponents. “They’ve got 19 wins, they’re well coached and they’ve got good players up and down their lineup. Our job is just to get healthy and then try to be the best team we can be next week. And if we’re fortunate enough to play two or three more matches then we will do what we can to try to come out on top.”

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