SPOILS OF VICTORY: Members of the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team show off the plaque and trophies they earned for winning the team title at the Prep B state tournament last week. PDS totaled 11 points to edge runner-up Pennington by one point. Pictured, from left, are head coach Michael Augsberger, Steven Li, Jaylen Peng, Farhan Mohammad, Josh Chu, Jason Wu, Dhruv Balajji, Andrew Marshall, Oliver Silverio, Neel Adusumilli, Albert Ming, and assistant coach Jon Brown. PDS is now competing in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) South Jersey Non-Public B tournament where it is seeded third and topped sixth-seeded Bishop Eustace 5-0 last Monday in a quarterfinal contest. The Panthers will now play at second-seeded Rutgers Prep in the semis on May 27. (Photo provided by Michael Augsberger)
By Bill Alden
Michael Augsberger sensed that his Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team was all in as it hit the court last week to compete in the Prep B state tournament.
“The guys were laser focused, we always talk about peaking at tournament time,” said PDS head coach Augsberger. “Their mental energy peaked at the right time, you could tell going into the first day that they really wanted it badly. Neel Adusumilli is the vocal senior leader. He and Andrew Marshall are the two guys that held everybody accountable and got them worked into a frenzy. I have to give them the credit.”
The Panthers needed that intensity as the tournament turned into a two-horse race between PDS and rival Pennington. In the first day of action, the Panthers advanced to the finals in four of the five flights of the competition to build a narrow 9-8 lead over Pennington.
Heading into the finals on May 17 at Edison, Augsberger wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“We told the guys this is not a coronation day, it is a work day,” said Augsberger. “It could go any way. Even though we have four guys in there, it could easily be a spectacular demise.”
It ended up being a spectacular day for the program as PDS prevailed at both first doubles and second doubles to pull out the crown with 11 points, one better than runner-up Pennington. It was the first team title for the program since 2018.
The first doubles team of Adusumilli and junior Oliver Silverio got the Panthers on the board in the finals, posting a 6-3,6-1 win over Montclair Kimberley Academy’s Dhruv Jetley and Aidan Szilagi.
“The final was all about making their foes hit tough volleys,” said Augsberger. “They were getting it up high to the back hand and going after whoever was at the net. Their experience shows and that really propelled us because that was the first one done.”
The triumph was special for senior leader Adusumilli who was sidelined by injury last season.
“That is a really great feeling for him and to be so instrumental in it,” said Augsberger. “He is the one who set the tone for the week, it means so much more when it comes from the guys. Coming from Neel like that, he took charge and he took responsibility.”
The second doubles pair of senior Albert Ming and freshman Jaylen Peng earned the clinching point as they edged Montclair Kimberley’s Brandon Yeu and Chris Hernandez. 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5).
“They won the first set and we feel like we are cruising,” recalled Augsberger. “MKA just came back and they did not give up. We are reminded why this is such a great sport. They are out of the team title but they feel they owe it to Pennington, they owe it to themselves and they owe it to the sport and it is beautiful.”
The pair of Ming and Peng didn’t give up as the team title was on the line with only one other match in progress as Pennington’s Josh Finkle was in a three-set battle with Tanay Patil of Rutgers Prep eventually won by Patil.
“It is 5-4 MKA and then it 6-5 us; we can close the door and we are two points away from the tournament and they break us and we go to the tiebreaker,” said Augsberger. “Albert hits this great poach to make it 6-5 and on the last point they send one long and that starts the celebration. We know we have the title.”
While Marshall fell in three sets to Theo Sardain of Pennington in the second singles final and junior Jason Wu lost in straight sets to Pennington’s Ishan Gupta in the third singles final, Augsberger liked the way they competed.
“With Jason and Andrew, it was about keeping them positive,” said Augsberger. “It is always going back to positive thinking and they did that.”
In reflecting on the team title, Augsberger credited Pennington with bringing the best out of PDS.
“It was on a knife’s edge the whole time, it could have so easily gone to Pennington,” said Augsberger. “You do it a hundred times and you don’t know how many times your team gets it. It is good to realize that because it makes you appreciate it more. Without the rival, you never know how good you can be. They played incredible and they have two champions to show for it.”
PDS is now competing in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) South Jersey Non-Public B tournament where it is seeded third and topped sixth-seeded Bishop Eustace 5-0 last Monday in a quarterfinal contest. In Augsberger’s view, the Prep B triumph should help the squad make a deep run in the Non-Public competition.
“They are really excited, the way that the team has bonded from it, and it is not just winning; it is their preparation coming into the tournament,” said Augsberger, whose team will now play at second-seeded Rutgers Prep in the semis on May 27.
“They are more bonded, more focused, and more together. That is what is going to get us through states, not necessarily just winning the Prep tournament.”