JFK tennis poised for a strong season

Going into the 2013 boys tennis season, John F. Kennedy coach Joe Marino has the problem that would make most coaches salivate.

Losing nobody to graduation from last year, the Eagles have depth in both singles and doubles, leaving the coach with a number of options come tournament time.

“We’re very balanced,” Marino said. “We have many options this year. We can put out many different lineups. I have absolutely no idea how I will do the tournament lineup till we get to the end of April.”

With the Eagles, it all starts with returning senior Jad Abdul-Aal.

Abdul-Aal extended Kennedy’s streak of sending an individual to state for a fifth year, becoming the sixth singles player over that span last year in his first season of varsity tennis. He lost in the first round to Asher Hirsch of Cincinnati Country Day in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1

The senior, who spent two years studying at the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla., said that playing in Columbus was a different experience.

“Honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life,” Abdul-Aal said. “It was an honor just to be there, even though I really didn’t get to make it far in the tournament.”

To say that Abdul-Aal is the best option the Eagles have for singles might be pre-emptive.

Junior Tyler Cole has earned praise from Marino and his teammates coming into the season, and fellow junior John Nader also might go into the tournament at the end of the season as a singles player.

The decision on who will play singles and double is an important one as once tournaments start, players can only play one of the two in Ohio. Marino, Abdul-Aal and Cole all said that each could make a deep run in the tournament if chosen by Marino to represent the school as singles players.

“Recently, Tyler’s been playing some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play,” Abdul-Aal said. “I feel like with me, him and John Nader together, we’re actually going to be one of the top teams in the area.”

If Marino chooses to stay with Abdul-Aal as a single player and decides that Cole’s and Nader’s best chances to go to Columbus are in doubles, this would suit them well enough.

After participating as singles players during the regular season, Nader and Cole teamed up the past two seasons in the doubles tournament to qualify for districts. Last season, the duo lost in the first round of the district tournament to University School’s Danny Huang and Lukas Zalesky, 7-5, 6-1.

The two know each other very well, having played tennis together for a long time.

“John and I have been really good friends since we were little kids,” Cole said. “We’ve always played tennis together, so we really work well together. We know each other well, and we know each other’s weaknesses.

“We’re very consistent people, and we never give up.”

Marino’s options don’t just end at those three players, according to the coach.

James LaPolla, whom Marino called the team’s best doubles player, will likely be matched up with sophomore Caelan Philips, giving Kennedy another threat in the doubles game.

Because of the depth of his team, Marino said that along with qualifying individuals deep into the tournament yet again, the Eagles are hoping to go far as a team. He scheduled many of the tougher tennis teams in the area in order to prepare for the postseason.

Come end of the season, Kennedy might make some noise.

“No matter how I play the lineup, we’ll be pretty decent,” Marino said.