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Men’s Tennis Exceeds Expectations This Season; Coach Vecchiolla Earns Herschel Stephens Coaching Award


From left at nationals: Shub Sharma, Xavier Shuda and Elekuah Gary.

Back home at the Mercer County Tennis Center, Coach Marc Vecchiolla displays the Herschel Stephens Coaching Award.

West Windsor, N.J. -- With the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) men’s and women’s tennis program, perhaps the best prediction in any season is “Expect the unexpected.” This year’s men’s tennis team certainly proved that adage right.

Starting off with an all-freshmen squad, Head Coach Marc Vecchiolla was modest in his expectations for 2017, anticipating that his players would learn, grow and have fun in the sport that he has devoted his life to.

So much for this being strictly a rebuilding year. The Vikings ended the season with a trip to the NJCAA Division III National Championship in Plano, Tex., May 15-19, and an 8th place finish. 

Three players, Elekuah Gary of East Windsor, Xavier Shuda of Ewing, and Shub Sharma of East Windsor, qualified for nationals following the team’s third place finish at the Region 19 Championship, which MCCC hosted at the Mercer County Tennis Center May 5 to 7. Also competing at the regional tournament were Nick Prestera at no. 1 singles, Sang Ho Park at no. 2 singles and Noah Reyes at no. 6 singles.

“With six freshmen on the roster, this was clearly a far better outcome than we envisioned in March,” Vecchiolla said. “It is a true testament to the hard work and determination of these students. I saw them grow as players and as people in the course of the season.”

Shuda advanced to the semifinals at 3rd singles following a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over Israel Bozor of Nassau Community College in which he overcame a 1-5 deficit in the first set. Shuda lost in the semis 6-2, 6-3 to eventual flight champion Akshay Raghuram of Oxford College.

The Vikings also got a strong performance from Gary. Losing his opening round match at 4th singles in three sets, he went on to win his first match in the backdraw consolation round, beating Steve Harbeson of Rowan College at Gloucester 3-6, 6-2, 10-8. Gary lost in the backdraw finals 6-0, 6-2 to Ryan Charlebois of Onondaga Community College.

Sharma, representing the Vikings at 5th singles, lost his opening match 6-0, 6-1 to Dan Rivera of Rockland Community College and lost to eventual backdraw champion Justin Munteanu of Rowan at Gloucester 6-2, 6-2.

Vecchiolla expects all three players to return to the squad next year and emphasizes the importance of their experience at nationals.

“They have now played on the big stage. Their approach to the sport and their desire to excel will be fueled by this experience,” Vecchiolla said.

The Vikings’ long-term track record under Vecchiolla earned him special honors at the tournament. Vecchiolla received the Herschel Stephens Coaching Award, presented to a coach for Outstanding Service and Dedication to the NJCAA Tennis Coaches’ Association.

Vecchiolla completes his 10th season as head coach for men’s tennis and completed his 20th season as head coach for women’s tennis in the fall. Under Vecchiolla’s leadership, the men’s team has advanced to the NJCAA Division III Championship seven times, coming in second nationally in 2016. On the women’s side, the team has won the NJCAA Division III national title four times and placed second four times.

Vecchiolla has been named the NJCAA National Coach of the Year four times and was inducted into the NJCAA Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005 at the age of 36, making him the youngest inductee ever.

Vecchiolla has served as director of Tennis Operations with the Mercer County Park Commission since 1994. The complex he oversees at Mercer County Park was honored with a USTA National Outstanding Facility Award in 1996 and 2008.

Vecchiolla was assisted this season by Ralph Bencivengo and Barb Pleva.

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