North Xtra: Freshman helping Mars win in tennis

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The Mars Area High School boys tennis team struggled in 2012, winning just two games.

But the team knew that help was on the way.

"One of my freshmen last season told me that he plays regularly with some of the eighth-graders and that they beat him," said Chris Knauff, who is in his first year as Mars' head coach after serving as an assistant the past few years. "I knew then that we were going to be pretty good."

That freshman was Tim Hunt, the team's No. 1 singles player last season. He is now playing doubles because of the influx of talented freshmen.

The Planets have four freshmen in their starting lineup to go along with two sophomores and a junior. Despite the youth, the team won two of its first three section matches, with the only loss coming to nine-time defending WPIAL Class AA champion Sewickley Academy.

The good start has the Planets thinking about reaching the WPIAL team playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"It's hard to say, but I think playoffs are a goal and I'll say an expectation," Knauff said. "We play in a really tough section -- the top three teams in the WPIAL last season were from our section. But if we can make the playoffs, we should be able to do well."

Mars is led by freshman Josh Raymundo, who is ranked in the top 20 in his age group in the USTA Middle States rankings.

"He is an excellent player in all aspects of his game," Knauff said. "He generates a lot of power on his forehand and he has a very good serve. He controls the play from that serve."

Another freshman, Aaron Gruber, starts at No. 2 singles. He is also a USTA-ranked player for his age group.

Noah Hudac, a sophomore, plays No. 3 singles. He said he senses a different attitude on the team this season.

"Last year, we were just playing to have fun," Hudac said. "This year, we're more serious. We feel we can compete with the better teams."

Two more freshmen, Alex Gruber, Aaron's brother, and Justin Simakas, play No. 1 doubles.

Hunt plays with the elder statesman of the group, junior Nick Decamp, at No. 2 doubles.

Knauff said it has been an easy group to coach despite their youth.

"Even though they're talented, they're willing to learn new things," Knauff said. "They put the work in."

Which has Hudac excited about what the future may hold.

"It's definitely intriguing to see where this team could be down the road," Hudac said. "Right now, we have to concentrate on this season because we feel we can compete with the best teams.

"But down the road, we could be one of the best teams."

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