Newark High’s boys tennis team off to best start in recent years
The sport of tennis is supposed to be a quiet one.
But the Newark High boys’ tennis team is making plenty of noise this season as the Yellowjackets are off to one of their best starts ever.
“I can’t remember the last time we started a season with six straight wins,” 16th-year coach John Taylor said after the team’s 3-2 win over Middletown on Monday. “As a team we’ve really pulled together. It’s an exciting start for us.”
Newark was handed its first loss of the season on Tuesday when the Yellowjackets were shut out by Charter School of Wilmington. But despite losing to a team Taylor considers to be the favorite to win the Blue Hen Conference, the 6-0 start to the season will go down as one of the best in school history.
“We’ve been an average team the past few years,” Taylor pointed out. “But they are starting to play the right shots. They’re trying to reduce the number of errors, which is what the game is about at this level. It’s more about reducing errors than hitting winners.”
Still, the Yellowjackets have hit their share of winners. Taylor credited the good start to the fact that the lineup includes six juniors who have all played since they were freshmen. Zach Dakin and Nathan Coffing compete at first and second singles, respectively, and the doubles teams of Ahmad Mageid and Chaz Knox, and Aidan Galileo and Reid Hagan have been a key factor in the team’s early success.
“The doubles team have really carried the team,” Taylor said of the two pairs who were undefeated until the Charter match. “Ahmad and Chaz have great chemistry and balance each other out. If one is high, the other is steady, and they end up bringing each other back to the middle.
“Aidan and Reid’s biggest strength is they really complement each other well with their strokes,” he added.
The lone non-junior in the starting lineup is freshman Zach Coffing. He jumped out to a 5-0 start at third singles before dropping his first match of the year against Middletown.
“Zach is very tenacious,” Taylor said. “He refuses to back down, even as a freshman. His mental toughness is one of the best I’ve seen in a freshman in a long time.”
Dakin has struggled at first singles, which often happens when a player is facing the other team’s best player day in and day out. But Taylor is confident his top player will pick up some wins along the way.
“He is so quick and agile,” Taylor explained. “That’s his biggest strength. He gets to every ball.”
Nathan Coffing’s greatest asset is his serve, according to Taylor, and the fact that his previous doubles experience also enables him to instinctively get to the net, which he uses to his advantage whenever he can.
Senior Thomas Kitson is the first man off the bench when needed in a lineup loaded with good athletes.
“They are all good athletes,” Taylor said. “That’s what’s really been a help. Most of them play soccer or swim or run cross-country. I’ve been blessed to be able to get them to come out for tennis and now that they’ve experienced some success that goes a long way. I think they just enjoy the game.”
Taylor has been teaching physical and health education and anatomy at Newark since 1992. He never played tennis competitively in high school, but that lack of experience didn’t deter him from taking the job when it was offered to him 16 years ago.
“When I first took the job, it seemed like the right place at the right time,” he recalled. “The sport doesn’t get a lot of attention, but you can play it your whole life. I’m trying to instill in my players to keep going out and stay active. The team works hard at practice. Their experience is coming out a little bit and their attitude is just really good.”
And like a lot of high school coaches, it is the players more than any amount of wins that keeps him coming back year after year.
“I love the players’ energy level and the way they seem to respond to me in that they seem to enjoy the game and we enjoy each other,” he said, smiling. “I just enjoy watching the kids begin to develop, and then when they start to get a little success it’s exciting.”
Zach Dakin is the top singles player for Newark High School, which is off to a 6-0 start this season.