Rochester High tennis eyes top spot in OAA White

By: Timothy Pontzer | Rochester Post | Published September 19, 2017

 Rochester High sophomore Vlad Meluta serves in a match Sept. 14 against Auburn Hills Avondale. After playing at No. 3 singles last season, Meluta has moved up to No. 1 for the Falcons.

Rochester High sophomore Vlad Meluta serves in a match Sept. 14 against Auburn Hills Avondale. After playing at No. 3 singles last season, Meluta has moved up to No. 1 for the Falcons.

Photo by Heather Gardner

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Despite featuring a lineup filled with many fresh faces, the Rochester High tennis team looks to earn its fourth league title in five years.

The Falcons only employ one senior in the starting 12, with one junior and three sophomores playing in the singles lineup.

“It is definitely unusual to be that young,” Rochester coach Jerry Murphy said. “But these guys have earned their spots and are in ranked order. It will just be a matter of seeing how they’ll stack up against some of the better teams we’ll see. They’ll definitely gain experience, and that’s great for the future.”

Rochester graduated five seniors from the lineup last season, a campaign that saw the club finish second in the Oakland Activities Association White Division. It snapped a streak of four straight division crowns, made worse by the fact that rival Rochester Adams took first.

Adams will not get a chance to defend the title after earning a promotion to the OAA Red.

“Adams had our number, and they clearly deserved to be in the Red,” Murphy explained. “The White is still full of formidable opponents, and we’re happy to be in it. The OAA is set up nice with the strongest teams in the Red, the next strongest in the White and the up-and-coming teams in the Blue.”

At press time, Rochester was 6-2 overall and 4-0 in the division.

Murphy said Rochester Hills Stoney Creek may be the favorite on paper to win the White this year, but he believes his squad will be motivated to get back on top.

“Before the start of every year, I give each player a sheet to write down their goals for the season,” Murphy said. “The first goal you usually see is the league championship, then wanting to beat Adams and Stoney, and then winning the regional to get a chance to go to states.”

To accomplish those goals, Murphy said he will need contributions up and down the lineup. He pointed to No. 1 singles players Vlad Meluta as someone he will lean on during the season.

“(Meluta) is a very motivated kid, probably the most athletic No. 1 I’ve had in a number of years,” Murphy said. “He really wants to be good. Last year, he was the No. 3 singles player and the two in front of him graduated. He’s really motivated by the move, and he practices every day and over the weekend.”

Murphy said Meluta’s size and skill set help him out on the court.

“(Meluta) is 6’3”, a big strong guy that can pound the ball,” Murphy said. “A lot of No. 1 players in the area aren’t built that way. He serves hard and is big and imposing. It’s encouraging to see a guy at No. 1 have talent but know he needs to keep improving. He’s exactly what you want out of an athlete.”

Now in his 46th year at the helm of the program, Murphy cited strong senior leadership as key for a successful season. He said he has that with senior captain Justin Baker, who is one half of the No. 1 doubles pairing.

“(Baker) is a real go-getter, setting up fundraisers for the team at local restaurants and handling lots of projects,” Murphy said. “We had a drainage problem around our courts for years. He wrote a letter to every one of our city commissioners explaining how we had to deal with mosquitoes and problems every time it rains. They passed a bond issue to get it resolved.

“When he graduates, he’s going to be really great at community service and getting things done. In the end, he will be one of my best captains.”

Baker said he loves to lead the Falcons, citing the team’s chemistry as an advantage.

“We’re friends off the court, and we’re always pushing each other to play to our fullest potential,” he said. “When it comes to matches, every individual win or loss is felt by the team as a whole.”

He said last year’s runner-up finish to Adams was tough, but it has given the group motivation for this season.

“I know without a doubt we can do it again,” Baker said of getting back on top of the division. “Our most ambitious aspirations are to qualify for states. We truly can accomplish it, so we’re going to give it our all.”

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