Robert Siniakowicz made history last year as state singles champion, and the High School South senior was hoping to add a team title this year.
While he did repeat as state singles championship this year on June 7 (defeating Cresskill’s Chikaya Sato, 6-4, 6-2 at Mercer County Park), plans to win a team title fell short, when defending champion Montgomery edged the Pirates, 3-2, in the Tournament of Champions final on May 31.
“Every time we met it was 3-2,” Siniakowicz said. “It was really unpredictable to say who would take the TOC final, but they did well to beat us there.”
WW-P South had beaten Montgomery twice earlier in the season on their way to a 32-0 start.
Siniakowicz and third-singles Alex Yang came up with wins in the TOC final, but Montgomery won the other three flights to drop the Pirates to 32-1 after the final meeting between the two undisputed top teams in New Jersey.
“It was very tough because you could say we lost when it mattered most,” Siniakowicz said. “It kind of canceled out when we beat them twice. It was really painful for me, but what’s more important than that was we had such a fantastic season as a team.”
The day after the loss, Pirates head coach Rich Arnold made his way into the high school with armloads of trophies that South won this year.
“I would give them all back,” said Arnold for the opportunity to win the TOC.
The Pirates won the Bryan Bennett Memorial Tournament at Delbarton, the Haddonfield Invitational and the Newark Academy Invitational.
They beat Montgomery to win the Bryan Bennett and Newark Academy tournaments. They also overcame strong local challengers and High School North and Princeton to win the Group III state title. Almost overlooked was a 10th straight team title at the Mercer County Tournament.
“It was very exciting for us as a team,” Yang said. “Delbarton, that first big event of the year when Robert won it for us, it was an incredible experience. It pumped us up for the rest of the year. Princeton and Montgomery, you could consider them rivalries. The stakes are always big when we play them and we put in our best effort.”
The Pirates have never won a state TOC crown and this year’s finals loss is the eighth in Pirates program history.
This year’s team put together a season right up with the very best in school history, and shares a finals experience with the likes of lineups of singles standouts from the late 1990s that included Edmund Choo, Oliver Choo and Nick Benjamin; the 2000 team with Yoku Kiuchi, Anthony Pu and Jeff Julio; and the 2012 team that lost to Millburn in TOC final with Michael Song, Thomas Weng and Dan Vaysburd.
“I think we had the greatest of all time,” Arnold said of this year. “The GOAT, and the team that was the best team ever in the history of South.”
Just two years ago, Siniakowicz was a sophomore at second singles behind Kabir Sarita when South fell to Newark Academy in the TOC final in 2016.
‘I love playing at the Mercer County courts. It’s my favorite place to play.’
This year’s lineup featured Siniakowicz, who last year became the first Pirates player to win the state singles tournament, Matt Michibata at second singles and Yang at third singles. Sam Ping and Andre Hsueh were a top-eight seed for the state doubles tournament. Aditya Ravi and Akul Telluri played second doubles for the Pirates.
“I think the last three years we’ve had great lineups,” Siniakowicz said. “In the past with Kabir, and now we have Matt and Alex. We’ve always had a deep team in my high school career, so it was nothing new to have a stacked lineup. This year, it felt different for me as a senior because I knew it was my last chance to go for the state title as a team. It added some pressure. I recognized we had a great team and we thought we were very capable of winning it. It didn’t turn out that way, and we fought hard but it was a great season overall.”
After the loss to Montgomery, Siniakowicz reminded his team of everything that they had accomplished this season. The Pirates piled up more wins than any previous team in program history, and took on all challengers to do so.
“In general, we were proud overall,” Yang said. “It was a historic season for South. No one has come that close to perfection in a season.
“We were still happy with what we did. Robert gave a nice speech about how he was proud of us as a team because of what we accomplished this season. It was hard that day. We’re able to realize the positives we can take away.”
The Pirates will graduate Siniakowicz and Michibata from the top of the lineup and Ravi from the second doubles. They leave significant holes to fill, but they expect to be a highly competitive team next year.
“We’re still a very deep team,” Yang said. “This year, we have a freshman that didn’t play in our lineup and he’ll probably play singles and we have some freshmen that could help us out. As much as we’re losing some of our best players, other schools are too. We have a good shot of going deep next year too.”
The Pirates showed their strength in the state tournaments. In the singles tournament, Michibata stopped Jason Maikis of High Point, 6-0, 6-0, in the first round. He beat Matt Wang of Pascack Hills, 6-3, 6-2, in the second round. Leo Kupferman of Montclair ended Michibata’s state singles run with a 6-4, 7-5 win in the third round.
Yang enjoyed a strong finish to his junior year by reaching the third round of the state singles tournament. A 17-32 seed, he defeated Jeffry Angelo of Wayne Hills, 6-0, 6-0, in the first round. He beat Akshay Bhalodia of Moorestown, 6-0, 6-1, in the second round. Fourth-seeded Chikaya Sato of Cresskill knocked him out in the third round, 6-2, 6-3. He could make the move all the way from third singles to first singles next year.
“I’ve given it some thought definitely,” Yang said. “It’s a big step, not only playing the matches but to step into that role as a leader of the team.”
“It’ll be mentally pretty different,” he added. “The level will always be high, no matter who I play. Just that transition, I think it’ll be fine. I need to step up as a leader for the team to play first singles.”
Siniakowicz leaves big shoes to fill. He went into this year’s state singles tournament seeded third and determined to reach the top again.
“This year everyone knows that I’m a contender,” he said. “Last year it was less obvious. This year’s season, playing at first singles, prepared me a lot better for the tougher competition later on.”
After a first-round bye, Siniakowicz defeated Christian Lizardi of Montville, 6-0, 6-0, in the second round. He beat Sammy Eden of Mountain Lakes, 6-4, 6-4, in the third round. Siniakowicz moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 win over 9-16 seed Nolan Shah of WW-P North.
He showed last year he has what it takes to win in the grinding tournament that plays every day over the final six days.
“It gave me a lot of confidence coming into the tournament this year,” Siniakowicz said. “I love playing at the Mercer County courts. It’s my favorite place to play. It’s definitely raised the expectations for every time I play, everyone expects me to win. In that aspect, it’s more difficult having the target on your back, but I find it pretty exciting.”
Siniakowicz joins the likes of Pirates products Ogidi Obi, Oliver Choo, Benjamin, Kiuchi, Pu and Sarita in heading on to a career in the Ivy League. Siniakowicz will play at Brown starting next year.
“I’m really excited for Ivy League tennis,” he said. “It’s always been a dream of mine. The fact that it’s right around the corner is really exciting for me. Some goals I have right now are I want to start in singles and doubles hopefully and work my way up in the lineup as the years go by. Hopefully one day I’ll play first singles for Brown like I did for South.”