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Midvale Journal

Strong Hillcrest boys tennis team likes odds to win region, be top 10 at state

Apr 09, 2024 12:02PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High has several players who could play doubles this season; seen here playing No. 1 doubles are senior Briggs Hunt and junior Rohan Khakural. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

First-year Hillcrest High head coach for boys tennis Creighton Chun has a dilemma.

As the head coach of girls’ tennis, and longtime assistant coach of both teams, he’s faced several issues, including most recently, the problem of finding courts to play on as the school was rebuilt and the tennis courts were amongst the last part finished. For four years, he scoured city parks to find courts, only to find some with uneven, broken pavement or nets torn or missing. 

At one point, some players practiced in one location, while others played somewhere else, which made it difficult for both the team to become cohesive and the coaches to help all players at once since they split up with the players. Come game day, fan support dwindled to mostly parents since there never were any home matches.

Chun didn’t sign on for more problems, but this one “is a good problem,” he said.

“We’re deep. We’re strong. From our doubles teams through JV, our players are all really close (in playing ability),” he said. “Our JV team (after playing four teams) is undefeated this year; every single player is undefeated. Any given day, JV players could break into the varsity and play second doubles, at least. That’s the problem we’re running into right now. Again, it’s a good problem.”

Those players can challenge one another for varsity spots as the season progresses, as can his top three singles players. Currently, freshman Harith Sathish is the No. 1 spot, with transfer student and senior Payton Bell in second singles. 

Senior Aarav Parikh, who has been Hillcrest’s top player in previous years, is undefeated playing third singles.

“Aarav is getting better as he’s playing more now,” Chun said. “He stopped playing after state last spring and just started playing maybe a couple weeks before the season started.”

Parikh, who had been playing about four hours four days per week since he was seven, said the break was needed.

“I was burnt out and lost that love for the sport so I needed to take some time away from tennis to focus on things that mattered to me, things that I enjoyed and then come back. I’m fully enjoying the sport and wanting to be on the court now,” he said.

Parikh said when he was younger, he tried about every sport, but “tennis was the one that stuck. It became a huge part of my life. When I was younger, I loved hitting the ball and hanging out on the court with friends. As I got older, the strategic aspect of it per se made it fun for me.”

Now Parikh and Bell are team captains, communicating with the team and leading warm-ups before matches.

“The biggest thing is hanging out with everyone because if you leave people out, they don’t feel like they’re part of the team. So we’ll hit with everybody and just, make the new kids feel welcome,” Parikh said. “We have a lot of new players this year. The coaches do a good job in developing us making sure we’re ready for matches. They put in a lot of effort to make sure that our team is in the best shape. I think the JV team as they get better the next year or two, those players will be really good as seniors. We’ll have a good talent for the next few years if not longer.”

Part of the coaches’ preparation is making sure that the “doubles players are in sync because in doubles it’s important that you know how your partner plays and their partner knows how you play. Our double teams are practicing together, doing drills together focused on situations that come up typically in doubles tennis, so they’re able to connect with each other better,” Parikh said.

He, too, will rely on coach Chun, and his brother, Chris, who has been an assistant on both the boys’ and girls’ teams for five years. 

“They’re both phenomenal coaches. They’ve spent years and years playing tennis; they know so much about the sport,” he said. “Having the coaches and a team support you is beneficial and gives you that extra motivation during a match that helps you play instantly better.”

Joining them will be former 2021-23 head coach Tui Satuala, who will be an assistant coach this season.

The team didn’t have a chance to practice due to inclement weather before their first match against East High, and the Huskies fell 4-1. About a week later after having practiced, Chun thinks the result would have been different.

However with a week of practice, the Huskies won their preseason matches against Mountain Ridge High 5-0 and Mountain Crest High, 4-1. They also won their first 4A region 10 game against Tooele High, 5-0.

“I don’t know anything about Park City, and Murray has 20 freshmen who are really good according to their coach, but I think we can win all the games with our depth. We’re one of the favorites for region title,” he said, adding the Huskies will play on their home courts during region April 22-25.

Second round of state through the finals will be in May at Liberty Park; the first round site has yet to be announced.

“There are two strong brothers from St. George that are favorites at state, but we got to be a top 10 team, I would think. We’re our former region champions. We returned everybody at varsity except two and we gained a bunch of freshmen and transfer who are strong players,” Chun said.

And he has the doubles “problem.”

“I probably had three freshmen this year who surprised me during open courts and now, they all have played varsity,” he said. 

In the mix for those double spots early in the season are junior Rohan Khakural, sophomore Lars Dalgleish, senior Briggs Hunt, senior Aarnav Kandakuri, sophomore Crew Hutchings (who was the second singles region champ last year) along with freshmen George Wang and Kabir Kandakuri.

Some of his players are enrolled in Hillcrest’s International Baccalaureate program, while others take Advanced Placement and honors classes. Many are involved in professional organizations, performing arts and student clubs.

Parikh, who is an IB student and has applied to colleges coast to coast, said the team is supportive of each other.

“We all like each other and have fun hanging out,” he said. “We’re a close team and we’re really good. I’m excited about this team my senior year.” λ