PHS tennis ‘doubley’ excited about T of C

Shindelman and Abraham give Little Tigers confidence

By: Justin Feil
   Whatever initial misgivings the Princeton High boys’ tennis team had about the combination of Eli Shindelman and Nate Abraham at second doubles disappeared in last week’s state tournament play.
   They won a pair of huge matches, the first in a 3-2 win over Ocean that gave the Little Tigers their first Central Jersey Group III title since 1997, and then the second in a 3-2 win over Tenafly for the first state Group III crown ever. The two, who were going into a third set by the time PHS captured three flights in its Group III semifinal win over Millburn, get another chance to prove themselves when they battle Livingston in the first match of the Tournament of Champions 4 p.m. today at Mercer County Park.
   "Obviously, we were very excited about the outcome," Shindelman said of their 6-4, 6-0 win over Tenafly. "It took every match we won. Lose one of them, and you’re gone. It was nice to be done early. It was the first time it’s happened this year. It took all the pressure off. I don’t know how we would have done if we were the final match."
   Their brief history, however, shows that the two would probably have been fine. Other than a loss to Montgomery in their first-ever match together in the final month of the season, Shindelman and Abraham have been perfect.
   "They’re well aware that second doubles is a key point for us," said PHS head coach David Black, whose squad ran its record to 29-1 with a 5-0 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro High North on Friday in the final match to be played at its existing high school courts. "It’s been our strength all year — the bottom three spots. It comes down to depth. They know. They understand their matches are very important."
   And all it seemingly took was the one match they lost to keep them on their toes. It was the first match after Abraham replaced Brett Willig, who had played with Shindelman much of the early season and when they won the second doubles flight at the Mercer County Tournament.
   "I was losing sleep over whether I needed to put Brett back in," Black said. "But after the Ocean match, and I saw how Nate and Eli played, I knew they could rise to the occasion against anyone.
   "It just shows you that our guys are so evenly matched. I’ve got eight really good players on this team. I feel good about any of the combinations."
   Shindelman and Abraham, like PHS, rode the momentum of their win over Ocean into the Millburn contest. They stormed out to a 5-0 lead in the first set Thursday before splitting sets in the morning and before they could finish, the Little Tigers had already advanced. They took advantage of their chance in the afternoon and were one of the winning flights to keep alive their postseason.
   "We’d played a couple matches before states, but we were still kind of nervous going in," Abraham said. "We didn’t play any tough teams yet, but after Ocean, we played really well. That gave us confidence."
   The key for the combination is typical of some of the top doubles teams — a blend of each player’s strengths to form a solid unit.
   "His serve is a big weapon," said Shindelman, a junior in his first full season of varsity play. "His serve and groundstrokes are pretty good. My net game is good. We complement each other. And we encourage each other."
   The two hope to share plenty of encouragement and congratulations this week. With a win today, the T of C fourth seeded Little Tigers would face top-seeded Group II champion Holmdel on Wednesday, also at MCP.
   "I think we have a great shot of winning overall," said Abraham, a sophomore. "I’m sure that Livingston’s second doubles will be pretty good. We have a lot of confidence going into (today). In the beginning we only dreamed of going in the Tournament of Champions."
   "There’s actually less pressure now," Shindelman added. "We’ve accomplished the state championship and this is like a reward. We would have been more disappointed to go home (Thursday at the Group III finals) without winning than Tuesday against Ocean."
   Shindelman and Abraham will be equally important as they were last week, as will still unbeaten first doubles’ Ted Distler and Chad Maisel and third singles’ Chris Hoeland, who recovered from losing his second match of the season on Thursday to win in straight sets Friday.
   "Livingston is one of the deepest teams in the state," Black said. "They’re good year in and year out. They’ve won the Group IV championship the last couple years, so I’m sure they’ll come to play. We have a lot of confidence. We’ve shown anything can go."
   And having a second doubles’ tandem like his has PHS’ second-year head coach feeling blessed.
   "I have as much confidence in that combination as I do in any other spot," he said. "We’re fortunate to have two first doubles teams. I don’t even look at them as second doubles. They’re like a first doubles team and they can play like one."
   Eli Shindelman and Nate Abraham did so last week, and the result was two critical match-winning points. Having knocked off Tenafly to reach the T of C, this week they’re looking for a couple more wins.
   "As a team," Shindelman said, "we knew we could do it all along. We knew it was going to be a close match. We knew we had a deep and solid team. For Nate and I it was a nice win."