MONROE: Monroe players end year battling the best

By Rich Fisher, Sports Editor
   HAMILTON – It was a strange season for the Monroe Township High tennis team, as rain seemed to stop the Falcons each time they hoped to get started.
   And yet, despite all that, MTHS managed to reach the state tournament as a team, and this past Saturday had three players in the NJSIAA Individual Championship at Veterans Park.
   It was one-and-done for entries — Sam Saxena in singles play and Kevin Stanely-Pavin Parimi in doubles — but just the fact they all made it puts Monroe in a positive light amongst New Jersey tennis teams.
   ”After last year, everyone knew most of the team was seniors and everyone was graduating, and they expected this team would be garbage,” Parimi said. “The fact we made it to states and Sam made it too, is good.”
   Saxena, a senior making his first state appearance, had the misfortune of being pitted against Newark Academy’s Quintin Monaghan, who was alpha-seeded 5-8. Anyone from Newark Academy is good, Saxena had to play their best.
   ”That’s not the best draw you can have,” he said after dropping a 6-0, 6-1 decision. “When you play a kid like that, you see how their strategy works. Those good players get it where they want it, every single time. If you can just get the strategy going like that, that’s how you win matches.”
   Saxena was happy, though, that he was able to improve his game as the afternoon went on.
   ”I felt like in the first set I might have been a little nervous, I couldn’t hit a backhand at all,” he said. “The second set, I got it together, I made him work for his points. I wasn’t just giving it to him.”
   Despite his brief stay at states, Saxena was happy with his senior campaign.
   After making second-team All-Division playing third singles as a sophomore, he moved up to first singles and struggled last year. This season, he went 12-8 and pulled out some nice marathon matches.
   ”This was probably my best year, even though I didn’t make All-Division,” he said. “I played great competition and won a lot of three-setters. The weather really hurt us though. We didn’t even get to practice much.”
   And yet, Saxena’s career culminated with a trip to the states, where he was among a galaxy of New Jersey stars.
   ”That’s definitely a goal for every singles person,” he said. “Getting to the tournament, seeing all the singles players here, it’s an honor to be here.”
   The Falcons doubles tandem also struggled with some early nerves before losing to Governor Livingston’s Dave Lander-Joe DiRienzo, 6-2, 6-3.
   Monroe fell behind 5-0 in the first set before rallying to win two games. After losing the set, they won the first two games of the second set, fell behind 4-2 and closed it to 4-3 before falling.
   ”We were starting to get it together,” Stanley said. “It was just a matter of staying with it and not giving up points. We made mistakes at the end. We were playing better, but not as good as we could be playing.”
   ”We were just jittery at the beginning,” Parimi added. “If we played those early games the way we played in the second set we would have had it in the beginning.”
   Despite the loss, both players felt the state appearances justified Monroe as a team.
   ”I think we did much better than people thought we would,” Stanley said.