Spring sports preview: Northampton boys tennis aiming for Western Mass finals

  • Chris Deszynski has high hopes for the Northampton boys tennis team in 2016. “I think, simply, we would like to make it to the finals this year, that’s it,” Deszynski said. Gazette file photo

  • Julian Lair was in his first season of competitive tennis last year. Now a senior, he’s one of the Blue Devils’ leaders. Gazette file photo

  • Alex Zimbalist will play No. 1 singles for Northampton this season. It’ll be his fourth year playing for the Blue Devils. Gazette file photo

For the Gazette
Published: 4/7/2016 8:25:01 PM

In Chris Deszynski’s second season as Northampton boys tennis coach, the improved Blue Devils have their sights set on a Western Massachusetts title.

Last season ended similarly to the previous two, with a loss to Minnechaug in the Western Mass. Division 1 Tournament. The team was one step shy of the finals in 2015.

“I think, simply, we would like to make it to the finals this year, that’s it,” Deszynski said.

The Blue Devils enter the season with No. 1 singles manned by senior and leader Alex Zimbalist and No. 2 singles by senior Julian Laird.

Laird was in his first year ever playing tennis last season when he and Leon Moore landed the No. 1 doubles seed in the Western Mass. Individual Tournament.

Laird hopes to transition that success to his second singles spot.

“For me personally, beat everyone,” Laird said. “I am expecting to beat Longmeadow, too, at second singles.”

Laird believes the Blue Devils’ success will be a product of a deeper more experienced lineup.

“So, basically, our team should be a lot deeper than it was last year,” Laird said. “Obviously we were a really good team last year. We had a lot of young players last year. We were both first-year players last year, even as juniors we just decided to play. We have Nat (Jones), a four-year varsity starter, he’s a key returner. My expectations are Western Mass. finals against Longmeadow because they make it every year. We’ll see where we go from there, but my expectation is to beat everyone and see what happens when we come to Longmeadow.”

Freshman Jake Duggan, according to Deszynski, has made a very strong case in the preseason to be the third singles starter.

“He is a natural talent,” Deszynski said of Duggan. “He has been playing tennis for a long time. He goes to the Art Carrington Tennis Academy all summer, so as a freshman he is as good as any freshman I have ever seen.”

Overall, Deszynski believes his singles players are better than they were last year.

Zimbalist will lead the group and the team.

The four-year veteran has seen all three losses to Minnechaug in the postseason.

“He’s been on the team all four years,” Deszynski said. “He has gradually improved every year, and this year he is far and above the best player on the team and he is taking on a leadership role. He’s a good kid, extremely smart and I think he is a little bit more vocal of a leader than Francois (Venne).”

Deszynski enters this season with one full season of coaching the Blue Devils under his belt. In his first year, Northampton finished 12-4.

The ultimate point Deszynski took away from last season is his team needs to be more aggressive.

“We have to be able to finish points and not get nervous when we got the chance to take control of the point,” Deszynski said. “And we’ve been practicing that since the first day of practice, we’re trying to take balls earlier, off the ground, trying to be aggressive when we have the chance to finish points as opposed to just keeping the ball in play.”

Moore attributes much of his success in tennis to the countless hours Deszynski has spent with him practicing during the week and on weekends.

“Starting out, I was real shaky, I was like a lot of these guys, but I give a lot of credit to Coach,” Moore said. “He put a lot of time in with me. On the weekends we play like four hours in a day, five hours. Just working on stuff so I just gotta say a lot of hard work, a lot of time put in.”


Amherst Regional

COACH: Dan Herbst, seventh year

LEAGUE: Valley League


LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: Lost 3-2 to Minnechaug in the WMass Division 1 quarterfinals

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Andy Zyskowski, Peter Hudicka, Calvin Lin, Dennis Shen, Yasu Watanabe; Sophomore — Nathan Ji

NEWCOMERS: Sophomores — Tristan Cox, Fernando Robles; Freshmen — Ethan Yu, Hanlong Zheng

OUTLOOK: Zyskowski is captain of the squad and will be playing No. 1 singles. The Hurricanes are a very experienced team with five seniors on the roster.


COACH: Zach Siano, fifth year

LEAGUE: Valley Wheel


LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2015, lost 4-1 to Mount Greylock in WMass Division 3 finals

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Trent Zulkiewicz, Ryan Kearney; Juniors — Jon Vinagre, Dennis Lelic, Alec Morgado.

OTHER RETURNING PLAYERS: Juniors — Aidan Dupont, Sidney Kim; Sophomores — Sean McCarthy, Noah Pare

NEWCOMERS: Senior — Spencer Caron; Sophomores — Connor Berenson, Ogulcan Cayan, Mike Laughner, Cyrus Raines, Nolan Vogel; Freshman — Noah Troy

OUTLOOK: The Orioles will look to head back to the finals this season with an experience group. All starting singles and doubles players from last year will be returning, including first singles standout Zulkiewicz.


COACH: Chris Deszynski, second year

LEAGUE: Valley League


LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2015, lost 4-1 to Minnechaug in the WMass Division 1 semifinals

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Alex Zimbalist, Julian Laird, Leon Moore, Nat Jones; Sophomores — Jack Denhart, Galen Windsor

OTHER RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior — Cole Rhodes-Dow; Junior — Joe Marks

NEWCOMERS: Freshmen — Jake Duggan, Charles Ryan, Chris Riley, Emile Bensedrine, Asa Jackson, Caleb Staples, Gabe Brodeur.

OUTLOOK: During the preseason the Blue Devils felt their team was stronger and deeper than last year. Zimbalist moves to No. 1 singles, while Laird takes over at No. 2 singles.

South Hadley

COACH: Rick Pio, 15th year

LEAGUE: Valley Wheel


LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2015, lost 4-1 to Mount Greylock in the WMass Division 3 semifinals.

RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior — Austin Ford; Junior — Matt Gelinas; Sophomores — Matt Loughrey, Jack Canavan-Gosselin, Connor Barbacki.

NEWCOMERS: Senior — Max Scheller; Juniors — Bertram Thomas, Oscar Weber; Freshmen — Gavin Lipp, Clay Koppi, Nate Piligian

OUTLOOK: The Tigers graduated five seniors last season and have six newcomers on the team. Pio does not believe they will have a hard time transitioning to competitive high school tennis. Ford, Gelinas and Barbacki have been named as the No. 1, 2 and 3 starters, respectively.

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