Shawnee boys’ tennis battles back against Cherry Hill East to win fifth straight sectional championship

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Shawnee High School boys’ tennis seniors Eric Tecce and Chris Machuzak had been a part of more wins in their four-year careers than any Shawnee boys’ tennis player before them.

The pair helped guide Shawnee to South Jersey Group IV championships in each of their three years, winning all of those matches easily, 5–0. This year, the Renegades swept through their early season schedule, entering the South Jersey Group IV championship against Cherry Hill High School East last Monday with a perfect 16–0 record.

However, about 45 minutes into last Monday’s match, Shawnee appeared to be in trouble.

“Looking around, I saw we were down on pretty much every court except for Cole (Tecce) at second singles,” Eric Tecce said. “Once I saw we were down 4–1 pretty much after the first set, I had to pick up my game. It’s what drove me to pick up my intensity.”

Shawnee stormed back against Cherry Hill East, winning the match 4–1 to earn the team’s fifth straight South Jersey Group IV championship.

The win was extra special for Eric and Machuzak, who became the first players in program history to be part of four sectional championship-winning teams.

“It may never be duplicated,” Shawnee head coach Jim Baker said of the seniors’ achievement. “I hope someone does it, but it may never happen.”

Eric and Machuzak both agreed this year’s sectional win was the toughest of all. Machuzak and his first doubles partner Ben Mead had to rally to win their first set, 6–4, over Jesse Dubrow and Kevin Hu of Cherry Hill East. The Cherry Hill East pair then won the second set, forcing a winner-take-all third set. Machuzak and Mead would win the third set, 6–2.

“You have to reflect back on what you did and realize you’re part of something bigger than yourself,” Machuzak said. “You’re not winning this for yourself. You’re not winning this for your doubles or singles match. You’re winning this for your team. That’s what drove me further.”

Eric faced a similar challenge at first singles against Rahul Goculdas. Eric fell behind, 4–1, in the first set but rallied to force a first set tiebreaker and won, 8–6. With the momentum going his way, Eric easily won the second set, 6–2.

“After being down 4–1 in the first set, to imagine yourself coming back and winning the match, you never would have thought it would have ended like that,” Eric said.

Eric’s win clinched the championship for Shawnee. He finished his match just after Machuzak and Mead won their three-set battle. Eric’s brother, Cole, got Shawnee’s first point with a 6–1, 6–1, win over Cherry Hill East’s Adam Yu.

“Your heart is pounding,” Eric said of the feeling before match point. “You know you’re so close to doing something that never happened before.”

Shawnee’s fifth straight championship win came in the midst of one of the program’s best seasons in recent memory. The team carried an unbeaten record of 17–0 into the state semifinal match against Central Jersey Group IV champion Montgomery High School last Wednesday. It was the first time in the Renegades’ five-year run they were undefeated when they won the sectional.

“You learn from your losses from previous years and know what it feels like being seniors,” Machuzak said. “We didn’t want that to happen to players who were juniors and sophomores.”

Both Eric and Machuzak have had plenty of individual accomplishments during their career. Earlier this year, Eric won his 100th career match and Machuzak was hoping to win his 100th match in the season’s final two weeks. Both will also compete in the NJSIAA singles and doubles tournaments in June.

Regardless of what Eric and Machuzak accomplished as individuals, both agree Shawnee’s run of sectional championships is the greatest accomplishment of all.

“The fact that it’s five years for Mr. Baker and four years for us, it’s something that you probably won’t feel again in your life,” Machuzak said. “It’s just amazing.”