Boys Tennis Player of the Year: Mannan making history at Cherokee

The standout sophomore was nearly perfect against South Jersey opponents in 2019, winning the county, conference and South Jersey singles titles and making it to the Round of 16 in the NJSIAA state singles tournament.

Sophomore Arjun Mannan had a season to remember in 2019, finishing the year with more tournament titles (three) than total losses (two). He was also the last South Jersey player left standing in the NJSIAA state singles tournament in June.

He may only be a sophomore, but Cherokee’s Arjun Mannan is already cementing his spot as arguably the best male tennis player in the history of his school.

Mannan was undisputedly South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Boys Tennis Player of the Year after he put together a dominant season in 2019. His resume speaks for itself: Mannan is the 2019 Burlington County and Olympic Conference singles champion. On May 25, Mannan won the South Jersey Tennis Coaches Association singles tournament, becoming the first champion, male or female, to ever come from Cherokee. He was the only South Jersey player to make it past the third round in this year’s NJSIAA state singles tournament. His final record for the season was 32-2. His first loss came on April 3 in a match against Cherry Hill East’s Adam Yu. Mannan wouldn’t lose again until nearly two months later, a June 2 loss in the state tournament’s Round of 16 against the No. 2 seed, Michael Zheng of Delbarton.

“He’s the real deal,” Cherokee head coach Dave Haney said. “He’s funny. He’s quiet. He doesn’t talk much during the turnovers. But he’s coachable. I give him advice and he takes it.”

Mannan isn’t a player who searches for the spotlight. When asked about whether he ever thought about being the top player in South Jersey,  Mannan insists he it never crossed his mind. He also didn’t think much about being a 9-16 seed in the state tournament this year.

“I didn’t pay attention,” he said. “There were a lot of good kids that weren’t seeded.”

Mannan may not have been paying attention, but many in the South Jersey tennis community were. Mannan came home from the South Jersey Tennis Coaches Association banquet last Sunday with a ton of hardware, including the 2019 Player of the Year award.

“Kids, players are hanging over the fence in awe of how hard he hits the ball,” Haney said of Mannan, who stands about five and a half feet tall. “I think it’s in part due to his stature. He just pounds the ball. It’s inspiring. It’s one of those things that shows it doesn’t matter who you are, if you understand what you’re doing, you can make it work.”

Cherokee’s Arjun Mannan leaps into the air as he smashes a forehand in the finals of the Olympic Conference singles tournament in May. Mannan won the Burlington County, Olympic Conference and South Jersey singles titles in 2019.

Mannan’s play has also had a positive impact on his teammates. Mannan helped boost Cherokee to a 12-6 record in a strong Olympic Conference American Division, and Haney believes Mannan’s ability to gel with his older teammates was a big reason for that.

“They have helped him get to open up and he’s helped them become better tennis players,” Haney said.

Mannan’s achievements at times seemed like a team victory. At many of Mannan’s South Jersey tournaments, his Cherokee teammates were in attendance, cheering the standout sophomore on.

“They all came and watched,” Mannan said. “Even if they already lost, they would come and watch my matches.”

Mannan has made great strides in the past year. He said his forehand has gotten a lot better and he now lands his serves with more consistency. For Haney, he believes Mannan was able to go on a nearly two-month undefeated run because he believes in himself and is committed to getting better after losses.

“He’s the type of kid that looks at his losses as an experience, not as a failure,” Haney said. “That’s one of the things I think every coach, no matter what level, is trying to instill in their kids.”

Mannan regularly plays United States Tennis Association tournaments and plans to participate in about five to six tournaments this summer. As for competing at the high school level, there’s no telling what Mannan’s ceiling is with two seasons left. When asked if Mannan was capable of one day contending for the state singles title, Haney simply said, “absolutely.”