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OP Tennis Season Preview

Luke Bernstein, Staff Writer

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At last the clouds have parted, the sun is shining, the rain has stopped, and the Oratory Prep tennis teams are ready for action.  After last week’s torrential downpours, the first match of the season is scheduled for Tuesday 4/11 against Elizabeth High School. Before their first action on the courts, I had the opportunity to hear from both the Varsity and JV coaches, captain Will Gagliano and one of the seniors, Brendan O’Reilly.

Coach Michael Manna provided expert responses to a variety of questions. The first question was about the goals for the program this season. Coach Manna said that he would like “to finish near the top of the conference and finish in the middle of the pack at the Union County Tournament.  It would also be great if we also advanced a round or two in the state tournament.” He reminisced on the fact that the team won the conference comfortably last year, but recognized that it would not be as easy this time because the first and second singles players graduated last year. Even without these two crucial components, Coach Manna feels that they have a good chance of success, “if the team focuses on what they are doing on the court and does not worry about our opponents, then they will be fine.  There are also many seniors on our team who were part of the conference championship team from last year, so they know what it takes to win.”

In order to win the conference, the team needs a very strong lineup and this is exactly what Coach Manna has produced. Ian Moore will play 1st Singles, followed by Will Gagliano at 2nd, Brendan O’Reilly at 3rd, Nick Browne and Mark Trella are 1st doubles with Drew St. Amant and Michael Githens at 2nd Doubles. Regarding this lineup Coach said, “Ian moving up from 3rd to 1st is a huge jump.  As Will and Brendan have played doubles together the last 2 years, it will be an adjustment for them at singles, but seniors know what it takes to win.  Mark and Nick are a newly formed team and have done some nice things during pre-season practices.  Michael Githens has played 2nd doubles for a few years and will be very important at that spot again.  Kerry Hogan and Alex Murray are also likely to see playing time.”

Regarding the new season, Coach Manna was full of advice that would make the players the best that they could be.  He feels that one of the best parts of high school is participating on an athletic team and enjoying the bonds that are formed because of it.  He hopes “that all players take the time to reflect on and cherish the memories they can create throughout their time as an athlete.  The relationships that you build are priceless. I hope that the seniors have no regrets” because “This will be their last season competing in high school athletics.  There would not be a better way for them to go out then as repeating conference champions.  I hope to see all players, but especially seniors, give 100% effort every time they step on the court; going all out for themselves and their teammates because once the end of May comes around, this will be all over.”

When he is not coaching the Oratory Prep tennis team, Coach Manna is a 4th grade social studies teacher at Oak Knoll School.  He uses this experience as a teacher to better understand how his players will react on the court. Coach Manna finds that “it is rewarding to see how students and players grow and mature over the years.  You can’t necessarily teach fourth graders and high school students the same way, but you can still get a message across to all students or athletes. Even though the teaching during the day is different,  I still have teachable moments in practice.” Coach Manna left me with the following thoughts. “This is now my seventh year coaching.  I have been a three season coach for four years.  The relationships I have developed are extremely rewarding and priceless.  I always look forward to the spring season as that was the first season I started coaching.  Each team is very different and that is what makes coaching exciting and interesting.  I am always sad for a season to an end.  I will miss this group of seniors tremendously when they graduate, and I am really looking forward to the next several weeks.”   

I also had the opportunity to talk with JV Coach Daniel Kallenberg about his plans and goals for the season.  He finds that “a lot of schools in our county do not have JV teams. However, most programs in our area that do are very very good or, quite frankly, not., Our JV team is very enthusiastic, but rather raw as a unit. We certainly will win some matches, but we will be more focused on player development rather than match results. When asked what advice he has, Coach only had three short, but poignant phrases; “Cultivate relationships. Push yourself to get better. Love the game.” Finally, Coach Kallenberg explained how he likes to attack his tennis practices.  He said, ‘To be honest, tennis is a pretty unique sport that demands a very particular set of skills. Therefore, we will be focusing on strength and agility training, tennis specific skills (strokes), doubles’ strategy, and mental toughness (90% of the game is mental).” Coach Kallenberg looks forward to the upcoming challenges and triumphs of the season ahead.

Two seniors who have been on the tennis team since their freshman year are two-year captain Will Gagliano and Brendan O’Reilly.  I also had the opportunity to interview them on what it is like to be on the Oratory Prep tennis team. Brendan’s favorite year on the team was his Junior because of their heroic conference title and his favorite moment was when he and Will came back to beat Gill. St Bernard in three sets at States.  He urges people to join the team as it is one of the more successful OP teams and has the best coach in the world. Finally, Brendan will miss his time on the Oratory tennis team due to all the friends he made because of it.  

Will’s favorite year on the team was his sophomore because “it consisted of a tremendous group of individuals who came together to produce one of the best tennis teams this school has ever seen. Luckily, I was able to be announced captain that year so it made it that much better.” He absolutely recommends joining the team because “tennis at Oratory is a unique sport that is laid back, but at the same time very competitive. If that is not enough to convince someone, the coaches are great.”  Throughout his entire OP tennis career. Will’s favorite moment was when he and his partner, Brendan O’Reilly, were down 0-5, love-40 in the county tournament, but made a storming comeback and ended up winning.  Although he is glad to be moving onto college next year, “playing sports at Oratory was one of the best times of his life. To say the least, it is certainly something I am going to miss next year.”  Will leaves us with the following thought, “The kids on the team are probably the best part of playing tennis. Everyone brings great personalities that come together to make an awesome sport even better. The coaches will get everything out of you, yet joke around and make sure your time playing is worth it.”  The OP tennis team hopes that their season will live up to the expectations put forth by the players and coaches of the great sport.
****photo credits to https://goo.gl/128oPq****

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