ROCKAWAY – After tennis practice, there might not be as many cars in the Morris Hills High School parking lot as usual. There definitely won’t be the usual array of car pools, at least not heading to Rockaway or Wharton.
The Scarlet Knights boys tennis team is a little different than most of the rest of the athletes with whom they share a locker room. Nearly all the players are part of the Academy for Math, Science and Engineering, or the Magnet Program for Math and Science.
Very few grew up in the Morris Hills sending district. In fact, head coach Meaghan Barger estimated that she has at least eight towns represented across the roster. About a third of the squad comes from Parsippany or Montville, 10 miles and more than a half-hour away in rush-hour traffic.
It’s a much larger Scarlet Knights squad than usual too, with 33 athletes playing tryout matches at a mid-March practice — a third larger than usual. About half are freshmen, with just three seniors.
“If you open yourself up, it gets easier,” said Vikranth Chinthareddy, a senior in the magnet program from Mount Olive — where his sister, Varshini, was a freshman on the tennis team.
“There are kids who have been together almost their entire lives. You have to assimilate with them. We know it’s a great program, a great opportunity. If you like the sport of tennis, if you want to play, that interest leads people from many different parts of the county. … It’s a different experience, but you’ve got to get used to it.”
Added Barger, “It’s a good problem to have. … It’s a big difference for us to have this many kids with club experience and lessons. It’s good to see it’s alive again, that there’s interest from kids this age.”
Sophomores Vedrath Murthy and Charan Kanna, who played second doubles together last spring, want to destroy stereotypes through the tennis team.
“People get surprised when I say I’ve played almost every sport in my life. This is the one I’m good at, since I was 7,” said Kanna, a Montville resident in the academy. “It’s not only math class that we’re good at.”
Coming from opposite ends of Morris County makes typical team-building activities like a pizza dinner difficult to plan. Chinthareddy boards a bus at 6:20 a.m. Some of the academy students, who start classes at 7:18 — almost 45 minutes before the rest of Morris Hills — leave even earlier.
But many of them knew each other through a round-robin tournament at The Knoll in Parsippany, a Universal Tennis Rating Saturday league at Randolph Tennis Center, or USTA events.
Regardless of hometown, the Scarlet Knights have the same goal: to build a sustainable squad. Also, they want to surpass the girls’ 7-5 record from the fall.
“The freshmen have a lot of talent, and I want long-term growth,” said Murthy, an academy student from Whippany.
“I want everyone to be better, and for the team itself to be good whether that means I play a top spot or not. … Every chance we get, we try to meet and play. It’s a little different than other teams, but I still feel there’s enough team spirit to carry us through.”
Staff writer Jane Havsy: 973-428-6682; [email protected]; http://www.dailyrecord.com/writerjane/