The Hitmen Are Ready for the Playoffs
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The Hitmen, Stuyvesant’s boys’ varsity tennis team, reached the semi-finals last season in a run that broke the expectations of many, marking the first time they’d done so in a decade. However, this run came to an end with their 2-3 loss to Hunter College High School. This year, the Hitmen look to bounce back from their loss to lift the championship.
Coming into the season, the Hitmen had some weak spots to address. Primarily, the team had to create a strong new lineup and replace two key players who had graduated: former seniors James Ly (’22) and Aryaman Goenka (’22). After tough tryouts, new faces were picked to enhance the team. Of these new members, freshman Shangxing Chen caught the eyes of the team. His impressive receiving technique and stability on the court allowed him to take the third singles spot. With a mix of veterans, improved substitutes, and rookies, the Hitmen were ready to take on the season.
After honing their skills and developing chemistry, the Hitmen went into their first game against Eleanor Roosevelt High School ready. Their hard work and practice paid off as the team ended up victorious 4-1 with the winners of their matches giving the opponent less than five sets. However, their next game against the Frederick Douglass Academy Lions turned out to be the complete opposite. The Hitmen’s singles players were outclassed by the Lions. With the opponent delivering well-timed and challenging serves, the second singles match ended in a 2-10 loss. Despite the Lion’s solid lineup, the Hitmen played diligently, as both third singles and first doubles players played close games. Amidst all of the losses, the team’s second doubles players were victorious with a dominant win, giving the opponent only one set.
Regardless of the 1-4 loss, the Hitmen didn’t give up, and they went into the next game against High School of American Studies with a positive mindset. Stuyvesant swept them 5-0, holding the opponent to a mere three sets. However, the obstacles facing the team began to pile up.
The team encountered early injury issues, including their first singles player, sophomore Stanley Hoo, suffering a left wrist injury. This injury prevented him from hitting a two-handed backhand, proving detrimental to his performance. Due to this, the team was forced to make a major switch in the lineup. “He basically turns first singles into a guaranteed loss, into a guaranteed win, or a likely win,” senior and co-captain Alexander Hagiu said when asked about Hoo’s contribution. Without Hoo’s practically guaranteed win in the first singles match for the team, the Hitmen would have to find a different way to remain competitive. However, substitute players freshman Jed Sloan and Maxim Peker both earned their spots in the lineup, showing more consistency and stability on the court. Though they didn’t make the same impact Hoo made, they still persevered and played with all they had, keeping the team competitive in advance of a highly anticipated meeting with Beacon High School.
In addition, the team found themselves battling scheduling issues early on. In a sport like tennis, where the team needs a tennis court to play, there are many difficulties finding and booking courts, which can lead to many postponed games. “We’re having a lot of scheduling problems, so a lot of people can’t make the matches,” Hagiu said. For example, in a match against Beacon, which was supposed to have been riveting, not many players showed up, forcing a lineup change. In the end, Chen had to play both first and third singles, losing both along the way. Though this game seemed like a complete wipeout, both of the Hitmen’s doubles teams were victorious, ending the game in a 2-3 loss. This game showed the potential of the doubles teams to change the outlook of a game, even against a top team like Beacon.
Despite the loss, the team fixed their eyes on the next game against the Bronx Science Wolverines. With some of the starters not able to come to the game, the team had to quickly reconfigure their starting lineup. The Hitmen had a shaky start as their first singles player, Sloan, who was filling in for the injured Hoo, lost his game 2-8. The outlook began to improve as the Hitmen’s second singles player, Chen, started dominating the game, leading 2-0. However, this quickly changed when the Wolverines gained momentum, finishing in a 6-8 loss for the Hitmen. After the demoralizing loss, though, senior Angier Lei won the third singles match to keep the game within reach, finishing the singles sets trailing 1-2.
While the lineup was a bit different than before, the players went into the game with hope and confidence to win the game against their first-placed rivals. Surprisingly, the Hitmen’s first doubles team, Alexander Hagiu and Nicholas Oh, won their match 8-6, even though it was their first time playing in an official match together. “Honestly, if I knew he was playing this good, I would’ve immediately chosen him as my doubles partner,” Hagiu said. The team has also gotten much stronger due to the improvement of new members, like Oh, from last year. “[Oh] went from being in exhibition matches to playing almost as good as me. He got so much better,” Hagiu said. With this important win, the game was now 2-2, and the fate of the game came down to the second doubles match. However, this lineup wasn’t as dominant, and the Hitmen ended up losing rather anticlimactically—2-3 in the overall score.
Despite the loss, the team still showed their chemistry and teamwork throughout the game. “Something I love about the team is the team chemistry,” junior and co-captain Prescott Jain said. “The long train rides to the Bronx are a great way for us to know each other more.” The chemistry of this team is clear in the way they support and help one another in tough situations. This unity is what allows the team to bounce back from tough losses and maintain success.
In addition to their outstanding chemistry, the Hitmen also boast a fun but intense practice routine. “At the end of practices, we always play fun games like King of the Court and Wave to reward ourselves for all the hard work we’ve done,” Jain said. While the players need intense training, the work-fun balance is critical, which is why the Hitmen have implemented a system where players can improve while enjoying the sport.
This year, the Hitmen are ready to go beyond the wall that stopped them last year and reach the final and lift the championship. The team boasts a powerful squad with a good balance of both veterans and rookies along with lots of team chemistry, as they are determined to finally bring home the winning trophy. “We hope to achieve the same thing we achieved last season, making it all the way to semifinals, then to finals, and hopefully winning the whole thing,” Coach Marvin Autry said. With the team having all the potential to win the championship this year, the Hitmen are up to take on this challenge.