After falling short in its quest to win the Class AA Section 5 title the past two seasons, the Thomas Jefferson boys tennis team is poised to take the crown this season.
"Honestly, we're trying to go undefeated in section this season," senior No. 1 singles player Jake Mascaro said.
The Jaguars return four starters from last season's team that finished second in the section and advanced to the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals.
Bishop Canevin, which entered this season on a 30-match section winning streak, lost nine seniors from last season. That has opened up the section for teams such as Thomas Jefferson.
"I think we can compete with just about anyone because of our ability and speed," Thomas Jefferson coach Chuck Correll Sr. said.
Unfortunately, the Jaguars haven't been able to prove it on the court yet. Because of the poor weather, Thomas Jefferson has had to already cancel or postpone eight matches as of Monday.
"It's horrible," Mascaro said. "We haven't been able to have much practice and I haven't been able to find a rhythm. I feel like I'm not up to where I was last year yet. But we've been trying to schedule practices on the weekends and hopefully we'll get it going by playoffs."
Mascaro will lead the way for the Jaguars after losing just two matches last season at No. 2 singles. Because he is an experienced senior and the only returning singles player, he has taken on more of a leadership role this season.
"He's really a good team leader," Correll Sr. said. "The kids love him."
Junior Sumanyu Gupta and senior John Ha will play No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively. Both played doubles last season.
Gupta's twin brother, Ritwik, is another returning starter and will play No. 1 doubles with senior Keaton Lindberg.
At No. 2 doubles, senior Steve Nicola will play alongside either senior Apruva Patel or junior Jake Rodeheaver.
"I think our first doubles and second doubles are strengths, or just our depth overall," Mascaro said. "We have eight or nine guys who can play at the varsity level. So even if we lose a guy or two to injuries, we have help who can fill in."
Last season, Thomas Jefferson won a WPIAL Class AA tournament match for the first time since 2008 when it beat Neshannock, 3-2, in the first round before falling, 3-2, to St. Joseph's in the quarterfinal.
Now, the Jaguars have their eyes on the state tournament, for which the school hasn't qualified since 2005.
"Every year lately it seems like we play and get beat by one of the academies," Mascaro said. "But I think we have a really good shot this year."