East Brunswick sweeps individual state titles

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MIGUEL JUAREZ staff East Brunswick’s Vivek Subramanian entered the season as the top-ranked player in the state, and made that ranking stand up with a perfect 30-0 campaign highlighted by the state’s individual championship.MIGUEL JUAREZ staff East Brunswick’s Vivek Subramanian entered the season as the top-ranked player in the state, and made that ranking stand up with a perfect 30-0 campaign highlighted by the state’s individual championship.

EAST BRUNSWICK — Vivek Subramanian was tired of coming close.

The East Brunswick High School tennis standout was tired of doing well in the New Jersey state championships each of the last three years only to fall just short.

The Bears’ No. 1 singles player the last four seasons, Subramanian reached the round of 16 as a freshman before sustaining his first and only loss of the season. He lost only twice as a sophomore, once during the regular season and again in the state quarterfinals. Then, as a junior last year, he finally reached the state finals before suffering only his fourth career loss.

Yes, Vivek (pronounced "Vee-vak") Subramanian was tired of coming close and, as a senior this year, he was determined to finally win that elusive championship.

With that in mind, you can only imagine what he felt like when he defeated Nick Savage of Shawnee 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) in the state finals to cap off a perfect 30-0 season and finally lay claim to being the No. 1 high school tennis player in New Jersey.

"It was so pleasing to finally get the monkey off my back," Subramanian said.

"After coming so close last year, all I kept thinking in my head all season was ‘enough is enough.’ I wanted to finally prove to everyone, including myself, that I could win the big one."

Of course, you have to win a lot of "big ones" just to get to the state finals, which Subramanian did last time around when he went through the whole season undefeated before losing to Vlad Stoliarenko of Moorestown 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. That loss stayed with him for a long time.

"I played him during the regular season and beat him, and then I played him in a tournament a couple of weeks after we met in the finals and I beat him 6-2, 6-1," Subramanian pointed out. "Unfortunately, I didn’t play my best when we met in the state finals, and he played very well."

It would turn out to be the last loss in his high school career.

"This year, I told myself nothing was going to stop me."

But Subramanian’s state singles championship was only half the story. His East Brunswick teammates, Jay Kaplan and David Liu, teamed up to win the state doubles championship, marking the first time in state history that one school has swept both the singles and doubles state titles.

"It was very exciting," veteran EBHS coach Bill Pellagrino, who just completed his 38th season, said. "Usually, schools never get the opportunity to have three players of that quality all at once."

Especially not East Brunswick.

"Our school is not known as a state powerhouse in tennis like some schools are," Subramanian added. "So it was nice East Brunswick could be the first school to win both the singles and doubles championships the same year."

The Bears have certainly been among the elite teams in the state lately, however. This year’s team won the GMC Red Division title and the county championship for the fifth straight year, and then added the Group IV state championship after finishing runner-up last season.

The 2004 team almost added the overall New Jersey championship, but lost to Newark Academy 3-2 in the finals of the Tournament of Champions. It was East Brunswick’s second loss to Newark Academy, the only team to beat the Bears during their 27-2 season.

"It was disappointing to get to the finals and then lose," Pellagrino said.

"We won at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, but we lost at [No. 2] and [No. 3] singles, and second doubles. We were in all of those matches, but they we just able to squeeze by us."

"It would’ve been nice to get that one more point we needed," Subramanian added. "But every team falls short somewhere. Our team is still happy with how we performed all season and how we did."

Subramanian certainly is, as he became only the second player ever from East Brunswick to win the state singles championship, joining Robbie Chess, who captured the title in 1992 while leading the Bears to their only overall state title.

Chess then went on to Duke University, where he was a three-year All-American in singles and doubles, and captain of the Blue Devils. Subramanian will be going to the University of Miami to continue his tennis career.

But, even though he finished the season 30-0, it wasn’t always quite that easy.

"You have a lot of pressure on you when you’re the projected candidate to win," Pellagrino pointed out. "When you’re seeded No. 1 every match, there’s a little more pressure on you."

"It’s definitely harder to win when you’re expected win," Subramanian agreed.

"There was pressure on me to win from day one. Even during the regular season, I was expected to win all my matches easily."

Some matches, however, were not as easy as others, like the three-set victory he had over Andrew Husby of Rutgers Tech, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. His only other three-setter was a 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 win over Dan Urban of Newark Academy.

Then, as the state tournaments rolled around, Pellagrino never talked to Subramanian about being favored to win, only to be ready to always play his best.

"You kind of try to avoid talking about that and, instead, take every match as they come," the veteran coach said. "We did talk about never taking anyone lightly. Once you get to the Round of 16, everyone there is good. I told him every match is difficult and every single point is very important because the competition is so good."

Subramanian took his coach’s advice to heart and defeated everyone he faced all the way to the title.

"I was locked in on winning that championship," Subramanian admitted.

Meanwhile, Kaplan and Liu weren’t the overwhelming favorite Subramanian was, but they finished with the same results, winning the state championship with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory in the finals.

"I was absolutely ecstatic for Jay and David," Pellagrino said. "It’s even more difficult, if that’s possible, to win the championship in doubles. You have to get players to play together and fit together mentally, like a concert. They have to work together, and as the year went on they got better and better.

"They’re both skilled and they both have big serves, which, in doubles, is very important. And they’re both quick, too. That’s what doubles is, primarily."

Liu is headed to Rutgers, while Kaplan will attend George Washington University. With Subramanian headed to Florida, the Bears will have quite a different look next spring.

But they’ll always be the first school in history to win both the singles and doubles state championships.

"It’s quite an honor," Pellagrino concluded.