Middle Township High School’s Max Gilbert has had an entire season full of success and new experiences.
The freshman took the helm at first singles for the Panthers this year and helped lead them to a 23-1 season and a South Jersey Group I title.
The 15-year-old had a personal record of 23-5 and a hand in both Middle Township’s sectional title and their fourth consecutive Cape-Atlantic League National Conference title. Gilbert is the Press Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“Going into first singles I felt like it was going to be a hard season knowing our division and who I was up against,” Gilbert said. “New school, new team and new experiences; I was nervous.”
Gilbert’s father, Matthew, is also the Middle Township tennis coach.
“I started playing tennis when I was 5. I was always down at the Cape May tennis courts just to hit with my dad,” Max Gilbert said.
“Max has been training for this for awhile now,” Matt Gilbert said.
Max Gilbert is ranked in the top 20 in the 16-and-under group in the state by the U.S. Tennis Association, his father said.
“He exceeded my expectations,” Matt Gilbert said. “I knew he was going to take a singles spot, but I wasn’t sure about which one. But he did very well with it (at first singles). Coaching your own son can be a challenge at times but very gratifying.”
Although Max Gilbert was new on a team that didn’t lose a single player from last year, he meshed with the rest of the Panthers and formed new friendships.
“Coming in I knew a few kids,” he explained. “The other half of the team I didn’t know too well. They accepted me, as a freshman, and I made friends with everyone on the team. Last season, Rob Giulian was the No. 1 singles and he guided me and gave me competition in practice and showed me the ropes. Same with a lot of the other guys as well.”
Aside from adjusting to a new atmosphere, Gilbert also faced challenges on the court and with his own game. His toughest opponent this season was Vineland’s Anuj Patel, who he lost to 6-4, 6-3.
“Next year hopefully we can get another championship and bring in some new freshman and teach them,” Max Gilbert said.
Coach of the Year
Matt Gilbert concluded his 13th season as head coach with Middle Township this year.
He reached his 200th career win this season and now sits at 221-43 while also leading the team to a second South Jersey Group I title.
Gilbert is this year’s Press Boys Tennis Coach of the Year.
“It was just truly an amazing season,” Gilbert said. “This was planned out a year in advance. As soon as we lost to Woodstown in the semifinals last year, we started practicing for our run next season. We implemented goals, and I watched the team achieve each one of them.”
The Panthers wanted to win a fourth consecutive CAL National Conference title, as well as beat Woodstown in either the semifinals or finals of this year’s South Jersey Group I playoffs. They also prioritized being undefeated in conference play.
“We cut up the old flag from when we won in 2016 and handed pieces of it out to the players on the first day of practice to keep for the season,” Matt Gilbert said. “We had alumni come back to cheer for the team as well as train these guys and we also worked on getting more Group I teams into our regular schedule like Schalick and Pitman.
“We knew we would face Woodstown in either the semifinals or the finals so every game played and every tournament we went to was to get better to face them. They really inspired us last year.”
Team of the Year
Middle Township went undefeated in the CAL and were the only team in the league to win a sectional title. Prior to their Group I win in 2016, Middle’s last championship win was in 1977.
Rob Giulian, Brayden Carr, Tathya Modi and Gilbert all received South Jersey Group I All-South Jersey accolades by the New Jersey Tennis Association this year as well.
Middle Township is The Press Boys Tennis Team of the Year.
“All these awards are a testament to the school’s program,” said coach Matt Gilbert. “We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the players and their families. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and I believe these guys could go down as Middle’s best team in history. I didn’t think it could better than our 19-1 season (2016) but we had a pretty amazing run.”
The Panthers will lose four of their starters to graduation next season.
“We’ve got two guys playing a varsity level on the JV squad right now,” Matt Gilbert said. “It’s going to be challenging. I still have Teran Broadnax, my third singles player, coming back, and he’s strong. Nick Gibboni will also be coming up and having one of the top three freshman in South Jersey with Max is great.”