In the 13 years that Cherry Hill East boys tennis coach Greg deWolf has led the program, he’s continued to see constant progress and improvement in the young men who have come through in recent years.
That progression has led to steady rise in the program’s year-by-year record and postseason performance over the last decade or so.
“Each year, we’ve kind of continued to move the goalposts year after year and get over the hump that might’ve been what we were kind of stuck at at that time,” deWolf said. “We were lucky enough to get over one hump and then work towards another, with the team knowing as a whole that that first hump is something we’re already capable of. And then we can work on the next one.”
Since the 2011-’12 season, the tennis program has gone from making first-round exits in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament to becoming three-time defending sectional champions, having done so the last three years of the tournament. The 2019-’20 season tournament was lost to COVID.
Because of their outstanding success in South Jersey the past three years, the moving of goal posts means the Cougars’ end-of-season goal has gone from winning the sectional title to winning the Group 4 title outright.
Winning the recent Moorestown Classic at Moorestown High School in early April was a strong indication of how the Cherry Hill East team stacks up against opponents from outside the Olympic Conference, at least early on in the season. It’s something deWolf said is absolutely beneficial.
“It really serves as a good barometer for where we are at this point in the season,” he said. “Plus, it also serves as a great chance for us to see teams from outside of the Olympic Conference that we might not get the chance to see during the regular season …
“it’s good to get out of our comfort zone and familiarity.”
During the weekend tournament, East defeated Moorestown Friends, West Windsor-Plainsboro North and West Windsor-Plainsboro South in 5-0, 4-1 and 5-0 matches, respectively, to claim the tournament title. East returned five of the team’s seven starters from last season, providing a fantastic opportunity to push for a state title in 2022 with a strong mix of talent and experience.
Two of the top returners for the Cougars were seniors Brett Schuster and Nathan Belitsky; Schuster returned as the team’s first singles player, while Belitsky made up half of the team’s first doubles pair.
Entering 2021-’22, Schuster said he and his senior teammates were well aware of what the ultimate goal was for their final seasons at East.
“With us having five really good returners coming back from the varsity lineup last season, we all knew the goal coming in was to win a state title,” Schuster said. “We’re all great friends and really push each other and love to compete in practice to help prepare each other for matches.
“It’s a great feeling knowing we all have each other’s backs out there and are working towards the same thing,” he added.
According to Belisky, tournaments and matches like the Moorestown Classic are a great way for the team to prepare for the upcoming postseason. For a team with big goals, it’s never too early to start preparing.
“We all know the ultimate goal is to win states,” said Belitsky, who went undefeated in team matches at first doubles alongside Benjamin Xi. “I think we’re more than capable of doing that. Some of those Moorestown Classic matches were really tough and really close, so I think that helps prepare us in a big way for later this season in a way that we probably weren’t last season.”