IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington High School boys tennis team enjoyed a banner season this spring.
The Blue Knights clinched their first Super Essex Conference divisional title in program history. The team went 6-6 overall and 6-2 in the SEC–Independence Division, tying with Nutley and Golda Och Academy for the division title. It also is the team’s first conference title since 1988, when the team competed in the defunct Watchung Conference.
IHS head coach Salim Laib is delighted for his team for achieving this great feat.
“It feels great to see the kids who have been around for four years work hard, especially with tennis. Most of these children don’t have a background in tennis,” said Laib, who also served as the IHS boys soccer head coach. “The first time they picked up a racket is when they decide to play for us. This year we had a group of players who were four-year players, outside of the COVID year (in 2020), so I was really able to see the benefits of four-year tennis players who really love the game and went out and played on their own. It felt nice to see them succeed.”
The Blue Knights were led by senior four-year players Juan Pinguil and Cristian Taday at the first and second singles positions, respectively.
At third singles was senior AB Cedillio, a soccer player who made an impression on the tennis court.
“He really wanted to play a new sport,” said Laib. “He really excelled and was a natural at it. For a first-year player, he became my third-best player and was my third singles player. He got some really good wins for us this year. A lot of matches come down to third singles or first doubles, and AB really stepped up and won a lot of matches for us this year.”
Josiah Ampofo, a senior, and junior Emmanuel Abimbolla were second-year players who played together at first doubles.
“They were very athletic around the net, very hard workers,” said Laib. “They were very raw, talentwise, but they use their athletic advantage to dominate net play.”
At second doubles were junior Kelvin Lartey and freshman Christopher Rodriguez. A few other players also got playing time at second doubles throughout the season.
The future of the program is bright. There were 14 players on this year’s roster, including six freshmen. Most of the players were alternates who practiced and honed their skills whenever they didn’t have a chance to play in a match.
“We’re very excited for next season,” Laib said. “This is the most amount of freshmen that have come out for our program. I’m excited to have kids who will step in and already have learned the basics of tennis, and hopefully this positive news (of winning a share of the divisional title) can motivate more kids to come out and play tennis in the near future.”
Note: Laib was the IHS boys head soccer coach for nine seasons before stepping down at the end of last season to spend more time with his family.
Photo Courtesy of John Taylor/IHS athletic director.