UDJ Tennis Update

Noah Cahill, Sports Editor

Experience is key to success. Last year’s UDJ Tennis team was full of veteran seniors who helped lead the team to a 5th-place finish in the Divison II state tournament. They were set in a region contested mainly by Grosse Pointe North and South. However, this year’s path to a state championship is anything but easy. New regional assignments have placed the Cubs with Groves and Seaholm who each rank in the top seven for Divison Two. U of D also lost nine players from last year while only returning five. One-singles George Yaldoo, one-doubles Ryan Hammett, two-singles Zachary Ong, and two-doubles Luke Padilla were just a few of the pivotal players who graduated last year. Second-year head coach Brian Antecki explains how “last year, everything was in place” and “winning regionals and winning tournaments was almost second nature.” This year is a different story. With such a young team, the focus is on rebuilding the foundation. Assistant coach Rob Nagle describes how “it’s been a much more instructional year,” with less strategy and “more just stroke and drill repetition.” That said, both coaches are still very excited about what this team can achieve.

The Cubs preparing for a match against Country Day.

While the new team is very young, multiple underclassmen have shown flashes of potential. Three-singles player William Cahill has emerged as a standout on this young team, with highlight wins coming against Seaholm in a three-set thriller and Groves in two-set domination. These performances put him in prime position to earn a top-two seed entering the regional tournament. Sophomore Arun Kensora and freshman Truman Yaldoo stepped into the two-doubles team and competed well early on despite a lack of experience. Their highlight wins came against former regional rivals Grosse Pointe North and South. Since then, Truman has moved to 4 singles and will continue to improve. Kensora is now paired with another sophomore, John Draper, and the two gave an elite Catholic Central team a three-set battle despite the losing effort. Coach Antecki compliments the way “younger players have really stepped up, including our freshman, to fill those gaps.” 

While underclassmen have contributed, the core of this team is formed by the five returning players: Graham Barker, Sam Owens, Will Seymour, Alexander Kuplicki, and Frank Salzeider. Barker and Owens round out the one-doubles team with the former having spent last season at one-doubles and the latter winning a state championship at four-doubles. Seymour and Kuplicki compete at the one and two singles spots respectively. These two have singles experience at three and four last season and now move up the ranks this year. Unfortunately, Salzeider suffered a season-ending back injury but continues to provide much-needed support for the less experienced players from the sidelines. He has spent his entire high-school career on Varsity and knows what it takes to succeed as an underclassman. Antecki highlights the leadership of his captains: Barker, Owens, and Kuplicki stating how they have “learned from previous team captains and kind of taken that to heart. They even help coach sometimes during our practice sessions.” Nagle adds that during a year with so many new faces and changes in the lineup, the captains have “been good trying to teach them” and get them “up to varsity level.” 

With the young core gaining experience and the seniors leading the way, both coaches believe this team can still accomplish a lot. The Cubs play a very difficult schedule, as in the last two weeks alone, they have faced Midland Dow, Ann Arbor Greenhills, Cranbrook, Catholic Central, and Forest Hills Northern. These teams all sit towards the top of their respective divisions. While the results against them have been disappointing, they serve as preparation for the competition level at states. Antecki mentions how “a lot of schools are underestimating our ability” due to the youth but “we are starting to put it together mentally and physically.” Despite a poor regular season record, the team will use the tough competition to “learn from the fact that you’re playing the best in the state.” The Cubs now look ahead to their final Catholic League matches against Liggett and rival Brother Rice before beginning regionals in the first week of October.