Two-time Press second-team All-Star Rahi Patel was a freshman when he earned the first singles spot at Vineland High School.
That year the team went 1-23.
Since then, Patel has helped the Fighting Clan climb the standings in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference. Patel's sophomore year Vineland was 17-9 and last year it was 23-6 and finished second in the conference to Atlantic City.
Coach Harry Silverstein said Patel is only the second player in program history to play first singles all four years since 1988 graduate and school wins holder Scott Steinour.
While maintaining a No. 1 rank in the classroom, Patel has accumulated a 54-39 career record-including a 25-9 campaign in 2012.
"It's a real honor (to play first singles all four years) because we obviously have a really prestigious program here," the 18-year-old said at a team practice Tuesday. "It's a lot of fun, because my freshman year our team wasn't that great. I've seen the team grow throughout those four years and now we are going to be a great team."
The entire program is on board for a big season after losing just one player to graduation. The Fighting Clan hasn't won the conference since 2005.
That same year Vineland reached the South Jersey Group IV final before falling to Cherry Hill East 3-1. Vineland hopes to win both of them this season.
Patel's sophomore brother Dhruv is playing behind him at No. 2 singles for the second straight year. Dhruv said he gained a lot of confidence in his shots and is prepared to come out strong.
"I'm a lot more consistent with shots I want to hit," the 16-year old said. "I can keep the ball in and still place it where I want it to be."
Junior Andrew Massaro, who went undefeated at third singles last year, is at that position again for the third season in a row. Silverstein expects Massaro to be the team's backbone and win big points in tight matches.
"He comes to the net on everything, always attacking" Silverstein said about Massaro. "He got bigger and stronger over the year, too."
Vineland is in a great spot with experience throughout its entire lineup.
Senior Darren Tomasso and junior Nick Mayo, Press second-team selections at first doubles who went 23-12 as a team last year, will lead the doubles teams. Tomasso is expected to play with returnee, junior Frank Conroy, while Mayo will team up with newcomer Nhyko Todd, a sophomore.
Tomasso, who said he is fully recovered from a high-ankle sprain suffered in October, put on 20 pounds in the offseason to help with his endurance and power in his ground strokes. He noted that the entire team has been training hard to get in peak condition for Monday's season opener with perennial powerhouse Haddonfield at 4 p.m.
"I think the whole team is a strength in itself," 18-year old captain Tomasso said. "We're all good friends. The camaraderie on this team is amazing. We've grown and progressed as a team, especially me and Rahi since freshman year, and it's the same guys for about three years now.
"All off-season we played (together). We went to clinics. We went indoors and outdoors and played together since the end of last season."
Silverstein wants to ensure a successful season so he planned one of the toughest regular season schedules in South Jersey. Vineland will get a true sense of its abilities against 10-time defending South Jersey Group II champion Haddonfield.
The Fighting Clan will also take on Group III power Moorestown, along with Group IV contenders Eastern, Washington Township and Toms River North. Not to mention CAL American Conference contender Mainland Regional twice.
Silverstein spoke highly of his team, but did mention one weakness - depth. Silverstein said Mike McGill will be Vineland's first reserve.
"Unfortunately it could be a one-shot deal (at a title run) because we are going to lose Rahi and Darren next year," he said. "This is the year we should make some noise. We are strong at every position."
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