After loss of historic senior class, underclassmen take on leadership, performance responsibility

Cody Allgor | Staff Writer

They may be younger, but they aren’t going anywhere. 

After winning back to back state championships the Mason boys tennis team isn’t content with just two, they would like to make it three. When a team loses a talented senior class like the Comets did from a year ago, most programs would simply contend that they’re in a rebuilding mode. That’s most teams, the Comets have no plans to rebuild, they are reloading for another run at a title. 

The Comets had two freshmen, Anish Gangavaram and Vignesh Gogineni, who made first-team all Greater Miami Conference (GMC) honors last season in second and third singles. Another freshman, Akshay Joshi, was part of a duo with Zutshi to earn second-team all GMC honors for doubles. All sophomores now, the three will play critical roles in hoping to lead the Comets to another state championship this season.

One of the more significant parts of last years’ team that the Comets will miss is undoubtedly Niraj Komatineni, who helped lead the Comets to the past two titles and is now playing for Brown University. Head Coach Mike Reid said that now is the time for him to see what Komatineni’s impact is on the program, and how much leadership on and off the court has been passed on.

“I don’t have Niraj Komatineni anymore,” Reid said. “So now I get to see how much Komatineni rubbed off on these kids, and hopefully, a lot of it has, and we can have a couple of good leaders emerge from that group.”

Along with the senior class, Gogineni was a big part of the Comets’ success 

last year. Gogineni said that the Comet seniors left a positive influence on the team along with their talent, and that it is going to be harder to win without them, but the lessons they’ve learned from those athletes will be instrumental in doing so.

“Losing the seniors has consequences, both positive and negative,” Gogineni said. “Positive because they were good influences, and they taught us team bonding experiences and how to act as a team and lead in our own right. Negative, because now that they’re not here, it’s going to be much harder for us to get back to our winning ways.”

Last years’ senior class won the GMC three out of their four years. Joshi said that they will be missed not only in their achievements on the court but also their leadership off of it. Joshi knows that experience is a big part of success in any sport, but he said that specifically for this team, winning came from repetition. 

“Last year’s seniors had a very high level, both performance, and leadership based,” Joshi said. “They helped us become a part of the team; we had a lot of fun times together. And then their experience helped us build our own skills and strengths as well. So definitely, a huge part that we will miss is that experience factor.”

Even though the Comets had a big senior class last year, a couple of players can’t play every match and win for the entire team. Joshi said that the sophomores have had to assist the new players so they can step up when needed, and the current Comets have proved they can handle that role.

“Even last year with all the seniors, there were a lot of moments, whereas freshmen, we had to step up and just prove what we were there for,” Joshi said. “And I think that this year, we just have to pass it on to all the new kids to help them keep growing and learning.”

Gogineni said this year,  it is crucial that the remaining players that have had the championship experience help motivate the new players to accomplish the feat again, and continue to pass on the attitude and mentality that has proven successful. 

“The underclassmen have to make sure that we lead the rest of the team because we’re the only ones with this kind of experience and the only ones to have a state championship,” Gogineni said. “It’s important to teach the team in a way where they can learn from us, and we can motivate them, and we can push them to what we were last year.”

With the Comets having such a talented team last year, it was tough for the players  to move up on the roster. Coach Reid said that having the loss of those upperclassmen leaves room for players to fight for their spot.

“Last year we were so deep, it was pretty hard for guys to move up,” Reid said. “But, this year, we got some opportunities for some guys to show us what they’ve done in the off-season and to show us if they can improve in practice every day.”

A significant amount of effort goes into winning a championship in any sport, especially if that program wants to win continuously. Joshi said that the Comets need to put the work in during practice because that can translate to another championship, as long as staying focused and detail-oriented.

“We need to put in a lot of work, a lot of effort into practice every day,” Joshi said. “Make sure we keep our hard work up, make sure everyone that’s coming on the team realizes how much work we had to put in last year, and how much we have to put in to repeat the success we had with it.”

The Comets haven’t lost in over 40 consecutive matches, earning two state and GMC championships in that span. Reid said that for the Comets to continue winning, the current and future players will need to continue to rise and develop.

“Our program has had a lot of success over the years, and the continued success of the program is dependent on them stepping up and having a great year,” Reid said. “I’m fortunate to have really good players, and they’ve been working on their game, they’re getting bigger and stronger. And I think we’re going to be good again.”

After winning a title, a lot of pressure can be put on the team to win another one. Gogineni said that the Comets want to focus on the individual tasks instead of getting sucked in by the thought of a three-peat, and that type of mentality is key to a third straight Comet state championship.

“We just want to take it one step at a time,” Gogineni said. “First, we want to focus on GMC’s and the coaches’ classics. And then after that, if we can get past our main competitor in St. X, I think we got a good chance of winning the state championship this year.”