MAPLEWOOD, NJ – At Columbia High School, one of the sports with a great tradition is tennis.
Heck, people still talk about the likes of Dick Savitt, Dan Nahirny and Marjorie Gantman. In 1951, eight years after he graduated from CHS, Savitt captured two Grand Slam titles, and was considered by many people as the No. 1 tennis player in the world.
This spring, the Cougars had another fine season, winning a conference title. For coach Dave Erdos, three of his players advanced to the state championships in the early part of June. That group included the No. 1 singles player, junior Ben Kaplan, and the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Seth Gordon and Jackson Wagner.
“We had a very satisfying season,” said senior Kevin Tamayo, who vied at the No. 3 singles spot. “I think our best effort was when we beat Watchung Hills, 3-2, in the state tournament. Probably our most frustrating loss was when we fell 3-2 to MKA (Montclair Kimberley Academy). We should have won that match.”
Tamayo, who is a top student, thoroughly enjoyed his four-year varsity career. In that period, the Cougars won three conference titles.
“We all know about the great tennis tradition at our school,” said Tamayo, who is a big fan of three pretty good players – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. “Both our boys’ and girls’ teams are always very competitive. Both teams always support the other. I think this fall, Kayta Silverman will be a player to watch on the girls’ team.”
Tamayo, who will attend Rutgers University, has always had a passion for the net sport.
“My older brother, Steve, was a very good catcher for the baseball team, but I never really got into the game,” said Tamayo. “Tennis is such a great sport because you can play it from a young age to an old age. The sport has a lot of challenges.”
Tamayo, who feels that playing doubles early in his high school career helped his overall game, had a superb senior campaign, going 18-1. His only loss came to a youngster from Montclair in the county tournament.
“I think that my serve is the strongest part of my game,” remarked Tamayo, who was a team captain, along with Gordon and Wagner. “I still want to work on such things as the forehand slice and drop shot. At Rutgers, I plan to play on a club basis.”
Tamayo, whose favorite subject in school has been Spanish, says his favorite surface is clay. One day though, he hopes to play on grass, which has always been the true test in the sport.
Columbia has been able to play some matches at the Orange Lawn Tennis Club in South Orange, which does have grass courts. But when CHS has played at the historic club, the team has had its matches on the har-tru courts.
Columbia was successful this spring because all the starters contributed. Adam Kaplan, Ben’s identical twin brother, played at the No. 2 singles spot. And at No. 2 doubles, CHS had a capable duo in sophomore Jonah Neisels and junior Kaya Esgun. CHS ended with a superb 16-4 record.
“I think the Kaplan brothers were so good because they returned the ball so well,” said Tamayo, who, like all the CHS kids, has great respect for Erdos, who always emphasized being as fit as possible. “Seth and Jackson clicked because they were so consistent on the court.”
Tamayo suggests that a key for tennis is to be “really focused” at all times on the court. “Mental toughness is so important,” said the personable CHS senior.
Tamayo, who enjoys living in the South Orange/Maplewood area, likes to keep as busy as possible. In the warm summer months, he works as a lifeguard and swim instructor.
“Being a student and an athlete at Columbia has been a great experience,” summed up Tamayo.
“Playing tennis in our county is special, because schools like Newark Academy, Millburn and Livingston always have top programs. You can improve your game if you go up against quality competition.”
COUGAR TALES – Tamayo says that playing doubles at the start of his scholastic career particularly helped develop his play at the net…
Over the last 40 years, the American who best showed how important net play is, was John McEnroe. He was a force in singles, but he also starred in doubles with Peter Fleming…
As a spectator, Tamayo has enjoyed attending the U.S. Open. He would love to attend the French Open some day, because that Grand Slam event is held on clay… Last fall, Erdos’ girls’ team went 11-8… “We have some very nice kids in our program,” said Erdos.