MAPLEWOOD – From the days of the great Dick Savitt in the early 1940s to players like Dan Nahirny and Majorie Gantman, Columbia High School has always had top athletes and teams in the sport of tennis.
This spring proved to be no exception. The CHS boys’ squad, coached by Bob Lieberman, finished with a strong 19-5 record and captured its second straight Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division title. After bowing to Bridgewater-Raritan, 3-2, in the quarterfinals of the state North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 tournament, CHS closed out the 2016 campaign with three impressive wins in its last four matches, including two over Glen Ridge.
“It was a nice year for our team,” said Lieberman, who also serves as the head coach of the CHS girls’ squad. “I was hoping to get 20 wins, but we had a couple of matches rained out. What’s exciting is that most of these kids will return in 2017. All of our players work very hard to improve their game.”
Lieberman, whose all-time favorite player was Aussie legend Rod Laver (winner of Grand Slams in 1962 and 1969), had a very balanced team. Heck, in division play, the starters dropped just three matches.
The No. 1 singles player for the Cougars was senior captain Jared Levi, who will be attending Syracuse University. The talented youngster was a member of the team throughout his high school career.
“Jared could really move the ball around the court,” said Lieberman, who grew up in Glen Cove on Long Island. “He had a nice topspin and he was also very effective slicing the ball. We’re certainly going to miss him next season.”
At the No. 2 and No. 3 singles spots, Columbia featured identical twins Adam and Ben Kaplan. The two freshmen were always steady on the court.
“Both Adam and Ben had USTA rankings,” remarked the coach, who was a member of his high school bowling and tennis teams. “It will be nice to have them around for a few more years. These guys really enjoy the sport.”
Columbia also frustrated its foes with two quality doubles teams.
At No. 1 doubles, the Cougars went with sophomores Kevin Tamayo and Seth Gordon. The talented duo were unbeaten in division play, just like Adam Kaplan.
Tamayo was exceptionally quick on the court, while Gordon showed great hands at the net. The pair always played a consistent game.
The No. 2 doubles team, junior captain Avery Lieber and junior Seth Brand, was also quite consistent with their level of play. Lieber was a force at the net, while Brand, like Tamayo, was very quick on the court.
“Seth (Brand) might have been the best athlete on our team,” said the coach, who these days is a big fan of the No. 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic.
Off the bench, a key player for CHS was senior Daniel Pomper. The youngster, who will be attending Pittsburgh, was aggressive on the court and got big points at the net.
“I didn’t have to do all that much coaching with this group,” remarked Lieberman, who previously coached girls’ squads at Hanover Park and Oak Knoll. “As a tennis coach, you want to motivate your players and help them know any weaknesses in the games of their opponents.”
Lieberman, who at one time managed a tennis shop, feels the CHS boys’ team and girls’ team will continue to improve.
“You have to be dedicated to the game if you want to do well,” said Lieberman, who is a fan of the Giants, Rangers and Knicks (in baseball, he likes the Dodgers). “That’s why the Kaplans are so good at a young age. They want to be the best.”
The Cougars next season will move up to the SEC-American Division, which is the highest division of the conference. The SEC will move from three divisions to four divisions next year. The SEC-American will include such powerhouses Newark Academy, Millburn, Livingston and Montclair, in addition to Columbia. Newark Academy won the state Tournament of Champions title this season to cap a 32-0 campaign.
TENNIS TIDBITS – Savitt won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 1951 and was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976… As a kid, Lieberman once played basketball against Julius Erving… In women’s tennis, Lieberman had great respect for Chris Evert.