CR tennis keeping with winning tradition

SMYRNA — Certainly, winning means a lot to Caesar Rodney High’s boys’ tennis players.

But the Riders say they do their best to make sure it’s not the only thing.

“I know this is kind of cliche, but winning does come second,” said CR sophomore Rishi Gundakaram. “I think we’ve all developed as players and as people. It (winning the state title) is not everything.”

Whatever the mentality, it works for the Riders.

They’ll open the DIAA state tournament next weekend having won three team state titles in a row and five crowns in the last six years.

Henlopen Conference championships are now routine for CR. On Wednesday the Riders wrapped up their seventh straight perfect regular season, stretching their winning streak to 119 straight matches.

They lost just two team points — in 4-1 losses to Smyrna and Lake Forest — all season.

And today, CR will start its quest for an eighth consecutive Henlopen Tournament championship when the event gets underway at Sea Colony in Bethany.

Veteran coach Jim Harvey admits that the program has hit a stretch where the Riders keep getting an abundance of good, young players.

“Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we had four or five (solid) players,” said Harvey. “We didn’t have the complete seven. Now I turn around and we have nine or 10 players who can make the starting lineup. We had a battle for second doubles this year.

“It’s the area, I think. The kids are getting involved and playing. And the kids that are good, they want to play with them. I’ve had kids come out because we do well.”

It also doesn’t hurt that CR usually doesn’t lose a big group of talented seniors all at one time.

The Riders graduated just a couple seniors from last year’s starting lineup and have only two starting seniors — both at doubles — this spring.

This year’s top three players are Gundakaram, junior David Haynes and freshman Garrett Wrede.

Haynes moved up to second singles this year after winning the state title at third singles a year ago.

“We’re definitely expected to be great,” said Haynes. “We try to not let it get to our heads. We just go out and play our tennis and, if we do that, then the results just come.

“The way I look at it, Coach (Harvey) has been here for so long. He’s gotten all the wins, that’s under his belt. He likes the wins but it’s just about getting better, it’s about having fun — because those are the things you really remember when you leave high school and go on to your life.”

“We start, at the beginning of the year, with ‘We’re out here to have fun,’” said Harvey. “The second thing is we’re going to learn how to play tennis. Winning is the third thing — and it’s not the most important thing. I say, ‘When you walk off the court, know that you did your best. Then you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’”

Harvey knows there’s nothing easy about winning a state crown, either.

Of CR’s last five titles, one came in a tie with Tatnall while two more came by just a single point. Tower Hill may be the favorite going into this year’s tourney.

“It’s so hard to win a state title,” said Harvey. “There’s a lot of luck involved in it, too. Tower Hill is going to be really, really tough for anybody to beat this year.”

But the Riders are going to do their best to bring home another team state title next week. That’s always their goal when the season starts.

“It’s a different feeling playing for your school than just playing for yourself,” said Gundakaram. “Our biggest goal is always going to be the state title. Whether we do that or not depends on a lot of things but I think we have a very good chance this year.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily pressure. It’s pressure that we put on ourselves but it’s not pressure that other people are putting on us.”

Notes

The girls’ Henlopen Conference tournament begins on Friday. Both the boys’ and girls’ tourneys wrap up on Saturday. … CR’s girls have won the Henlopen tournament 10 years in a row. … The Riders’ boys have won 15 of the last 17 team crowns in the tourney.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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