Two weeks ago, the Brookline boys’ tennis team took the court for its first practice since 2019. Two things jumped out.
First, the team had grown. In a year in which many tennis squads are struggling for numbers, Brookline has 28 players, many of them freshmen and sophomores.
“There are twice as many kids on the team for the first time than in a usual year,” said senior Sam Feldman. “It will take some time to get to know everyone, especially the younger guys who are showing their faces for the first time.”
Second, the lack of a season last spring had not slowed anyone, not even the newcomers.
“When we started practices two weeks ago, everyone was in shape,” said senior Noah Schwartz. “It was evident that everyone had played and prepared.”
Brookline is a heavy favorite for not just the Bay State Conference title but a third straight Division 1 state championship. The Warriors opened with wins over Wellesley and Framingham.
Though the strength of the team hasn’t changed, the leadership has. Mike Mowatt is at the helm after a combined 19 years as coach at Oliver Ames and Xaverian.
“I was taking a break from coaching but saw the posting and wanted to go for it,” said Mowatt. “It’s Brookline, they always have a good program.”
Brookline’s strength in recent years has come from the high number of its players who compete in the USTA system, such as Feldman, who has been nationally ranked since he was a youngster. That makes the battle for the three singles slots highly competitive, and even moreso the battle within those three slots for No. 1 singles.
Jayanth Devaiah, one of the highest-rated juniors in New England, is currently first singles. Feldman, the Globe’s Division 1 Player of the Year in 2019, and Schwartz have a hold on the other two slots.
Given the amount of high-level tennis they have played, all three are prepared for whatever opponents they face. “They all have a variety of skills,” said Mowatt. “They can win from the baseline and they can win from the net. They are all experienced enough to change their strategies when needed.”
Not only have the three battled it out for position on the team, they also battle on the club circuit. Mowatt has his ways for keeping the competition from getting negative at practice.
“We try to keep everyone moving,” said Mowatt. “We will have our first and second singles play the first doubles team. I have a few freshmen and will have them hit a round.”
When Devaiah, Feldman, and Schwartz practice together, they recognize that it benefits all.
“We are all pretty similar in level, so it becomes a good hit,” said Schwartz, who is hoping to walk on at the University of Miami in the fall.
No matter the level of talent, Mowatt wants the team to take the season one day at a time. Through his years of coaching, he has seen how quickly a team can change with the addition of one player. He doesn’t want his squad to expect Bay State rivals to be the same as they were two years ago.
“Teams can change just like that,” said Mowatt.
The Brown-bound Feldman believes that no matter what, his team has the grit and talent for a state championship three-peat — even if the players had to wait an extra year for it.
“Our team wants to win it all this year, nothing less,” said Feldman. “We went undefeated two years ago and we all believe that we can do it again this year as long as we leave it all on the court.”
Tom Giusti is a proud Newton guy, an Our Lady’s High graduate who landed back in the Garden City as a full-time trainer at Newton North in January 1980, hired by former athletic director Jim Ronayne.
Giusti has never left, working in a variety of roles: trainer, varsity football assistant, assistant AD under T.J. Williams, director of physical education, health, and wellness — and since 2007, AD, overseeing a Division 1 program in the Bay State Conference that fields 37 varsity, 37 JV, and 10 freshman teams.
But after a challenging and fulfilling 40-year run, he will retire at the end of the school year.
“It’s just time,” said Giusti, who is affectionately known as “Juice.” “The whole year has been challenging [with the pandemic], but the coaches and the kids have done a great job following the protocols.”
Giusti’s first stop, after earning a degree in sports medicine at Indiana University, was a two-year stint at Waltham High. “So when I came over, it was one sideline to another, and former [Newton North coach] Norm Walker, of course, remembered a number of the Giustis that had been athletes at Waltham,” recalled Giusti with a chuckle.
When Giusti replaced Williams as AD, North was in construction mode for the new high school. It was not until three years later, in 2010, that students were back on campus. A major hurdle cleared.
“It’s a good city, people are so supportive,” he said. “We deal with a lot, but it is a great working environment, and it was a job of a lifetime for me. How many people get to say that? You get to work with young kids and give them guidance, and turn them into better people . . . We should credit the program, and the community, for being so competitive. There are so many opportunities for young kids, we’re thankful for the youth programs.”
Mike Jackson, the assistant AD at Bay State rival Needham, has accepted the position at North going forward, a hire that Giusti applauds.
Applications for the 35th Boston Globe Foundation/Richard J. Phelps Scholar-Athlete scholarship program are due Monday. The program is open to high school seniors. This year, 18 scholarships valued at $3,000 apiece will be awarded to one male and one female from each of MIAA Districts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, one male and one female from Central Mass. (Districts 2/3), one male and female from the city of Boston, and one male and female from NEPSAC schools in Eastern Mass. Information was sent to schools in every April. E-mail documents to email@example.com.
Craig Larson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.