The boys’ varsity tennis team is well on the way to repeating as the Group 1 State Champs this year, part of which can be attributed to having a newbie on the team.
Freshman Alex Hocken, with a record of 7-3 as of Friday morning and the team’s third singles player, has been an asset to the team this season.
Against Jonathan Dayton on April 29, Hocken was up against Zach Corey, who was putting up a tough fight. But Hocken fought back, winning the first set 6-4 and cruising through the second, 6-1.
Facing Cranford last Tuesday, Hocken won a “pretty easy” match-up, 6-1, 6-1.
In the Union County Tournament a few weeks ago, Hocken had three wins and was “instrumental in the team capturing second place overall behind Westifleld,” said Head Coach John Delloiacono.
Hocken played Alan Chu of Westfield in three matches, winning one match, 6-2.
The freshman player performed well in a loss to Alan Chu of Westfield again on Friday. Coach Delloiacono said the entire team played well, despite losing the match, 4-1.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Hocken said he hopes to perform well in the State Tournament.
“I guess I’ll try to get to the final and play Westfield again, and hope I can win this time,” Hocken said, who started playing tennis when he was seven years old.
Hocken also said he is confident the team will perform well for the remainder of the season.
“We have a really strong team this year because we have many good players and they are interchangeable. If one of our singles players is missing, we have a strong back up,” he said.
Hocken, who also plays soccer in the fall, said he would eventually like to play tennis in college.
"As a freshman, he has a very bright future," Coach Delloiacono said.
Sophomore Jenna Madden is a growing force to be reckoned with on the New Providence girls’ varsity softball team this season.
Madden is batting .511 on the season, has a .577 on-base percentage, is second in RBIs on the team, currently with 16, is tied for first with 19 singles, has four doubles and 7 walks.
Madden also took over as emergency catcher for five games for starting catcher Michelle Ciarrocca, who was injured earlier this season, and has been starting rightfielder since her freshman year.
“She has grown a tremendous amount since her freshman year. She’s only a sophomore, but I don’t think of her as a sophomore because she stepped up last year and filled a position for us in right field. Really, that’s not her position,” said Head Coach Kelly Villa. “She’s just a huge asset for us there and with her bat this season, she was struggling a little bit — maybe in the first two games, if that — and then she’s been really working on it. [Jenna is] a very dedicated player, and she’s now just moving up the lineup and helping us tremendously.”
Against David Brearley on April 26, Jenna had a hit, a 2 out double in the bottom of the seventh, to win the game, 5-4.
“It was a really close game and I got up I think with two outs, and we needed a hit so I was just hoping for the best,” Madden said.
Jenna also had a double against A.L. Johnson on April 27, although the team lost 6-1, and had an RBI hit against Summit in a doubleheader on April 30, playing catcher for one inning in the second game. The Lady Pioneers won both games 15-0 and 4-2, respectively.
“We played [Johnson] in the beginning of the season and we lost by a run,” Madden said. “But when we played them, we made a few errors in the field and we had one bad inning, which they got their runs in.”
On Thursday, Madden and her team shut out Plainfield, 16-0. Up next is the Union County Tournament, which begins today against Roselle Catholic. The Lady Pioneers are the No. 4 seed.
“I think we’ll do pretty well. I don’t think we’ve played them yet, I really don’t remember, but hopefully we’ll get a win to move on,” Madden said.
Madden, who first began playing softball in fifth grade, said Cassandra Squeri’s father, Alan Squeri, asked her to play softball. With a little encouragement from her our father, Jim Madden, she decided to try it out.
“So I did, and I liked it and I’ve been playing ever since,” Madden said.
The sophomore, who throws right-handed, also switched from batting right-handed to batting left-handed.
“When we played in Middle School, we had races and our Middle School coach said, since I’m pretty fast, I should switch to batting left handed and “slap,” where you run kind of while you hit so you get down to first base faster,” Madden said. “So I do that sometimes but not really, I usually just hit. So I practiced lefty during Middle School and I’ve stuck with it ever since.”
When Madden began playing softball in the summer, she started off at short stop and then moved to catcher. But when she joined the high school softball team last year as a freshman, she tried out for a different position.
“They needed a rightfielder so I just tried out for it. I like that better than catching. You can see everything,” Madden said.
To further improve her own abilities in the off-season, Madden has also worked with college players, Allison Thibault and Danielle Kinley, at Frozen Ropes in Union.
“I did that last year during the winter,” said Madden, who also plays soccer in the fall. “I work with Allison on slapping, a type of hitting, and I worked with Danielle on regular hitting lefty. I worked with Danielle during the season in the beginning; I met with her on a few Sundays.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season and the upcoming State Tournament, (the team is seeded No. 9 in Group 1), Madden said she hopes to keep on hitting and helping out the team as much as she can.
“I think we have a pretty good chance of going pretty far [in the State Tournament]. We’ve improved a lot since last year,” Madden said. “We started off the season with two losses so we wanted to step up and do better. We’ve been practicing a lot and our team is really close; we’re all friends with each other, so that helps along with playing well together.”
The team has been playing well together, which can be attributed to having athletes on the team who are able to play well together for the benefit of the team as a whole, like Madden.
“She’s also a team player. There’s not, I don’t think, anyone on the team that can’t get along with her because she’s just very easygoing. She’s a jokester, too. She’s one of those athletes who is great to have on your team,” Coach Villa said.
Although college is a few years away, Madden said she might consider playing softball on the club level.
Congratulations, Jenna and Alex!