Experienced Palmyra boys tennis team eyeing division title, deep playoff run

The Panthers have high expectations as they return their entire 2017 lineup this season.

Confidence is running high this preseason for Palmyra High School boys tennis.

The Panthers enter the 2018 season with a very experienced and hungry starting lineup. Palmyra returns its entire lineup from 2017 and hopes its blend of experience and athleticism takes the team to new heights this year.

“We’re pretty senior-loaded,” head coach Bill Devlin said. “Experience is definitely on our side.”

Five of the seven returning starters for Palmyra are seniors. Seniors Scott Smyth, Ethan Martin and Cole Maute all agreed having the entire starting lineup back gives the team a huge advantage over the opposition.

“It’s a big confidence boost knowing that you’re going be as strong as, or better than, the teams you played before,” Martin said.

Martin and Smyth both played mostly singles last year along with junior Niles Dodd. Maute played mostly first doubles, but got some experience at singles.

Even though the entire lineup is back, all of the players still need to earn their positions for this year in the preseason. Devlin described the preseason intrasquad matches as competitive and said his players will be challenged to keep their roles on the team throughout the season.

“Every challenge match that these guys have is just like their matches in the games,” Devlin said.

The team has faced a challenge with weather early in the preseason. The Panthers were only able to get their full team out on the courts for a couple practices in the first two weeks of preseason due to a combination of weather and missing a good chunk of the team due to the senior trip.

To counter these challenges, the team has had a lot of indoor practices at the Charles Street School gym. The team was able to set up one court inside the gym to work on serving. The team also does a lot of conditioning and footwork drills.

“When you lose a couple weeks of the season in the beginning where there’s no practice, it’s important to get some racquet work in,” Martin said.

Many of the players in Palmyra’s lineup are already in excellent shape. Most of the team consists of multi-sport athletes, with many of the players also playing on the soccer team in the fall. The players believe their athleticism sets them apart from some opposing teams.

“Soccer helps a lot between the running and the changing of directions,” said Smyth, a three-sport athlete at Palmyra. “I also think wrestling helps out a lot more with balance and cardio.”

“Soccer helps a lot because of the conditioning, but you also have that athletic mindset where you learn hand-eye coordination,” Maute added.

Last season, one opponent was a thorn in Palmyra’s side. Cinnaminson High School defeated the Panthers three times, with the third meeting coming in the Central Jersey Group I quarterfinals.

This year, Palmyra believes it has the talent to get past Cinnaminson and other opponents in the Burlington County Scholastic League Freedom Division.

“We expect everything to be better than last year,” Devlin said. “We expect to compete in the division. Cinnaminson has beat us up a little bit, so our goal is to take care of them this year and also get over that second round hump that we’ve kind of been struggling with.”