Change at top of SOL Continental

It has been a while since the Suburban One League Continental Conference has been up for grabs, but this spring a first-time singles champion will be crowned.

North Penn’s Mike Buxbaum won four straight singles titles and capped of his career with a PIAA Class AAA championship last season. With Buxbaum gone, several locals are eyeing the prize.

At Pennridge, it is senior Chandat Phan’s time to flourish. His brother Chanton Phan played No. 1 singles last season and finished second in the conference and is now playing at Rider.

Phan takes over as the Rams’ leader and best chance to claim a singles championship. He tries to do so with a new coach by his side. After a decade, Darcy Rabenda is now running Delaware Valley College’s tennis program. In steps former girls assistant Frank Flanagan.

“Darcy and I sat down and talked about the plan for Pennridge and it kind of made sense,” Flanagan said. “Now I am the head coach for both. Chandat is one of better singles players in the conference. I feel his motivation and leadership is huge. He is taking charge and been more of a vocal player. His mental game is extremely tough and that is huge in the tougher matches.”

Flanagan, who played four years of varsity tennis at Sun Valley High School and is currently ranked on the USTA circuit, thinks Phan has a chance to put together a special season for the Rams. But he truthfully does not know what the rest of the conference will look like. For that matter, neither does the most veteran coach.

“Unless someone has a cracker jack freshman I don’t know about I think Chandat is the favorite,” North Penn coach Toby Watton said. “Central Bucks South has an overall solid team. We are a team in transition, but notice I did not use the word rebuild. I lost four, but it’s where you lose them. I lost the state champion and now three, five and seven become one, two, and three.”

Watton will be playing without Buxbaum and his strong second singles player this season Ethan Borochaner. Their graduation catapults Chris Mullen into the top spot. There could be pressure taking the place of the defending state champ, but coach Watton is pleased with the conversations the two have had during the offseason. He believes his mindset is right and Mullen is ready to have a strong season.

“Mullen has accepted the fact that there are no expectations and you tend to do better than you should with that mindset,” Watton said. “He has improved each year and I like his mental outlook. He is happy to be one, he has earned it, and he thinks he can compete with Phan and (Sean) Kimball from CB East.”

The Knights pair off a few new doubles teams this season and it could end up being a few freshman that make the difference between a conference championship and a middle-of-the-pack bunch.

Souderton, too, feels they have some promising freshman in Evan Delp along with others. Central Bucks West has a pair of freshman — Brad and Dale Johnson — that are ones to watch.

“North Penn had 60 kids come out and some really good freshman,” Flanagan said. “We have been pretty good against Souderton and Quakertown, but we are waiting to see what North Penn and Central Bucks East really have.”

Players such as Unionville’s Johnny Wu and Conestoga’s Brian Grodecki are the favorite to fill Buxbaum’s state title crown, but before anyone from this area can cross that bridge, they need to get comfortable in their local surroundings. A snowy winter has slowed down the start for everybody, but somebody has to emerge as the team to beat. Only time will tell who that will be.

“Our main goal is to put together a conference championship team,” Flanagan said. “That is something Darcy thought was possible with this team. I am gearing up and thinking the same thing.”

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