South Jersey Times boys tennis notebook: West Deptford program has crossover appeal

The first time this school year that Tim McAndrew took over a winning program at West Deptford, things turned out pretty well.

He’s hoping for similar success this spring – and he’s brought a bunch of friends from his other sport to help out.

McAndrew, who replaced Steve Jakubowski as the boys soccer coach in the fall and led the Eagles to a 17-5-2 record and a berth in the sectional final, has succeeded Mike Seeley with the boys tennis team. He previously served as an assistant under Seeley, a close friend who was a groomsman in McAndrew’s wedding.

“It’s been a busy year,” he said with a laugh. “I was Mike’s assistant for seven years and we’re really good friends so I knew ahead of time that he was going to take some time to spend with his family. I actually knew about this before I knew about soccer, because Mike had explained that last year was going to be his last since his daughter was turning 7 and he wanted to spend more time with his kids.

“I’ve been spoiled with really great assistant coaches and phenomenal kids in both programs, and it’s a lot of the same kids too.”

In fact, 16 of the 26 kids in the tennis program are soccer players as well, including sophomore Nate Bassett at first singles, senior Noah Calloway at third singles, sophomore Andrew Eagle at first doubles and sophomore Chase Struzynski at second doubles. McAndrew also coached second singles Matt Connelly and first doubles Nick Beecroft, both seniors, when they were on the freshman basketball team.

“West Deptford doesn’t typically have a lot of tennis players previous to high school,” McAndrew said. “What Mike and I have done for several years is try to get the fall athletes who weren’t doing a spring sport but wanted to have some fun and work on their footwork, speed and agility. The courts are right next to the high school and we’ve tried to make it work for those crossover athletes. It’s worked out well: It’s fun and it gives them an opportunity to try out a new sport. “

The Eagles brought back four starters from last year’s 12-5 team but had to replace their entire singles lineup. Bassett has moved from second doubles to No. 1 singles and took a 2-1 record into Tuesday’s match at Delran.

“Nate Bassett is maybe the smartest athlete I’ve ever coached,” McAndrew said. “His mom played tennis at Shippensburg and his dad played soccer at Shippensburg, so he has some of the genetics and he’s been exposed to both sports in one way or another. He doesn’t actually play tennis year-round and didn’t play much up until high school, but he’s picked it up so quickly and he’s so smart the way he assesses his opponent.

“(On Monday) he lost the first set against Rancocas Valley, kind of evaluated what his opponent was doing, we talked in between sets and then he went out and implemented the strategy exactly the way we talked about it and won the second set and third set. ”

Connelly, Calloway and the second doubles team of Struzynski and senior Henry Poblete are also 2-1 in the early going.

“I think one of the upsides to this current roster is athleticism,” McAndrew said. “While we lack some tennis experience, we have the athleticism, endurance and durability to really work through a lot of sets and play long points. We have some really good athletes and I don’t see our guys getting too tired in any situation.

“This week we have five matches scheduled and next week we have four matches scheduled, so that’s nine matches in 10 school days. The athleticism starts to show when you’re in your seventh or eighth match. I think our athletes are really going to shine in those moments, hopefully. ”

The one athlete who got away from McAndrew is senior Nate Schultes, a soccer star who previously played tennis before switching to lacrosse for his final season. Not that there are any hard feelings – McAndrew loves seeing kids compete no matter what the sport.

“I know Nate and his family pretty well and he’s done great with lacrosse,” he said. “They needed him because they didn’t have a lot of depth and he had played in middle school. He’s off to a really good start over there. He’s unreal – his focus and determination are incredible and I couldn’t be happier for him. “

HOT STREAK: Pitman is off to an impressive 5-0 start, with four of the wins coming against Tri-County Conference opponents. That extends the Panthers’ streak to 20 victories in a row against conference competition.

Pitman’s last loss to a Tri-County team was a 4-1 defeat to Schalick on May 6, 2019. The Panthers went 15-4 overall last spring and 14-0 in the conference on their way to their fourth straight Classic Division title.

Senior Zack Kraemer has moved up from second to first singles and is 5-0 in the No. 1 position. Sophomore Cole Kelly also bumped up a spot and is 4-1 at second singles.

STRIKE FIRST: Woodstown scored a big early win in the Tri-County Diamond Division race when it defeated Penns Grove 4-1 last week. The Salem County rivals shared the championship last year.

The Wolverines swept the singles matches, including a hard-earned victory by Harrison Guy at No. 3. He outlasted Carlos Palacios in the first set 7-6 (7-3) before taking the second set 6-2.

RIVALRY WIN: Vineland has faced a tough early schedule and is 1-4 out of the gates, but the one victory was a big one. The Fighting Clan topped Cape-Atlantic League rival St. Augustine 3-2, snapping a four-game losing streak in the series.

The two teams did not meet last year and the 2020 season was canceled so this was their first matchup since 2019. It was Vineland’s first win over the Hermits since May 9, 2017, when Anuj Patel – a three-time South Jersey Times Player of the Year – was a junior first singles for the Fighting Clan.

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