The junior first singles player helped the Knights win the second Central Jersey Group III championship in school history, yet says the team wanted more.
“We were a little disappointed,” Shah said. “We knew we could go even further. We had a chance to make Tournament of Champions and even go a couple rounds there.”
Make no mistake, Shah was thrilled with the steps that WW-P North has taken. In his three years, the Knights have been on the rise. They finally got over a big hump with a 4-1 win over Princeton for the sectional championship on May 20.
“It’s big,” Shah said. “Usually we have High School South or Princeton, and they’re always the strong ones in our county. This year, South wasn’t in our section and Princeton wasn’t as strong as they usually are. We were able to sneak by with a sectional title. That was almost at the bare minimum of what we could achieve.”
North won its morning match in the Group III state semifinals, 5-0, over South Jersey powerhouse Moorestown, but fell in the afternoon, 4-1, to Tenafly in the Group III state final. The match that was far closer than the score looks with Shah the only winner.
“We had three matches go three sets, so it was really a fight,” said Albert Paulsson, the lone coach in North program history.
The team placed second in the Mercer County Tournament behind South. The MCT match many will likely remember came with Shah fighting through a leg injury to stay in the first singles championship for more than four-and-a-half hours before falling in three sets to Alex Yang of South, an opponent he’d beaten the week prior when fully healthy.
“Of course looking back now it was fun to be a part of it,” Shah said. “I knew we’d go the distance, but I wasn’t expecting it to go that long. My body was starting to give out midway through the match. I started thinking about pulling out. I squeaked second set out.”
It was a heroic effort that showed the sort of fight that the Knights put up this year in all their matches on their way to a 16-5 record. North moved up in the state rankings along the way and gained respect around the state for their play.
“We were top 20 in the state,” Shah said. “In parts of last year, we were at the bottom of the top 20. We felt the state wasn’t giving us the credit we deserve. We’re starting to feel like we’re getting the credit we deserve. And I think we can go further.”
The North players knew the team well regarded because of the tournaments it received invites to, and the way it competed against the top teams in the county and sectional. It’s a change that Shah enjoyed being a part of in his third season at first singles.
“Because this season went longer, we had a little more satisfaction” he said. “We got invited to both of the big invitationals, Delbarton and Newark. It’s starting to feel like the state knows what we’re like.”
Joining Shah and Raghav in the singles lineup was Martin Long, the Knights’ lone senior in their varsity lineup. Adding to the Knights’ strength was another group of solid doubles teams. Rohan Mohite and Saurabh Gadre played first doubles and Eeshan Sridhar and Pranav Kumar played second doubles in states after Sarvesh Gadre and Lucky Koritela were second at the MCT.
“The doubles teams this year were very strong,” Paulsson said. “We had a very tough schedule this year so they played some very difficult doubles teams and that made them much stronger.”
Shah enjoyed more success individually at the end of the season. He was seeded 5-8 for the state singles tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals before falling, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, to Montgomery High’s James Hopper.
Shah was away during the state tournament as a freshman and last year made the round of 16 before falling to the eventual state champion. His move up to the quarterfinals demonstrated the development in his own game.
“I think just a big part of it was I knew the level I could play at was going to be pretty high,” Shah said. “It was about sustaining that over long matches. Once I got to the quarters, I believe every single guy had a chance to win the state tournament at that point. It was who was going to keep their head straight and be able to play solid tennis every single point. In that aspect, I improved from a year ago.
“Technically, I worked on my serve. I got a few more miles per hour on my serve and a little more variety. Doing that more consistently has taken some pressure off my ground game. I don’t have to be as solid from the back because I can get a few points off my serve.”
Those little improvements benefitted Shah. He played at a higher level and set the tone for his teammates, and established a new goal after reaching the quarterfinals.
“Nolan is just an incredible player,” Paulsson said. “He works really hard in every match. He really is a student of the game. He hits so many different shots. He played against someone he knows very well. He’s beaten him before. They’ve beaten each other before. So on any given day… It was a tough loss but again when you’re at that level of the tournament, these guys are all just tremendously talented.”
Shah is taking a little break from the game to allow an injury he sustained to heal fully. Then he will back to training hard to focus on going even further in his final year.
“This upcoming year I need to keep focusing on maintaining a high level in matches and not thinking about the magnitude of the matches,” Shah said. “I sensed the opportunity was there this year to go farther, but I thought about that a little too much. Especially senior year, I’ll be playing pretty freely, no pressure there. It’ll be the end of my high school career, and I want to leave it all out there.”
Shah and most of the WW-P North will be returning after a year in which they made history. It’s only a start as the Knights are determined to do more in the year to come.
“We will have another dynamic next year and that’s what makes it interesting,” Paulsson said. “And hopefully the boys know that they need to work during the offseason on their game, and they’re very dedicated to tennis and that’s what’s going to be another aspect of next year’s team to look forward to. After the season that we’ve had, I think they’re all very motivated to just keep working really hard and again next year set really high goals for ourselves.”