Hanover Freshman A Worldwide Success

Hanover’s Kotaro Horiuchi plays against Lebanon’s Max Reed last month in Lebanon. Only a freshman, Horiuchi is the Marauders’ No. 1 singles player. (Valley News - Libby March)

Hanover’s Kotaro Horiuchi plays against Lebanon’s Max Reed last month in Lebanon. Only a freshman, Horiuchi is the Marauders’ No. 1 singles player. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

Norwich — Born in Boston before moving to Australia and later Hanover, Kotaro Horiuchi has covered a lot of ground in his 15 years. For the Hanover High boys tennis team, the No. 1 singles ace’s shots do the same thing.

Undefeated as a freshman for the equally unbeaten Marauders this season, Horiuchi entered his rookie high school season having already made quite an impact in upper-level youth tennis circuits in both hemispheres. While spending nine years of his youth in Canberra, Australia, Horiuchi was the top-ranked player in his age group in his home state, the Australian Capital Territory, when he came stateside last summer.

He hasn’t relented on this side of the planet, contending in USTA tournaments and currently ranked as the top New Hampshire freshman — and No. 7 in New England — by the Tennis Recruiting Network. Horiuchi is also the USTA’s 23rd-ranked U16 singles talent in the region.

Unbeaten in both singles and doubles play for the Marauders — the latter while partnering with Christian Mueller — Horiuchi is expected to challenge Londonderry’s Harrison Max, Bedford’s McKinley Grimes and Concord’s Greg Cistulli, all seniors, at the upcoming NHIAA individual championship tournament. He’d be Hanover’s first individual champion since Tyler Anderson in 2006, and Marauder coach Mark Lewis thinks Horiuchi has a good shot.

“He’s an all-court player,” Lewis said during yesterday’s practice at Huntley Meadows, where the second-ranked Marauders were preparing to face No. 3 Lebanon in this afternoon’s Division II semifinals. “He’s not a guy who hangs around by the baseline. He plays the net, slices the ball and changes speeds. ... He’s just on a different level than almost everyone else in New Hampshire. There are a couple seniors who can play with him, but that’s it.”

Mueller, a senior who spent his first two years of high school playing for Northfield-Mount Hermon in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference, said it’s hard to find a freshman of Horiuchi’s caliber at any level.

“He’s pretty unbelievable to watch, because of his court awareness and intelligence,” Mueller said. “He’s incredibly smart and quick.”

He’s got power, too, using high-velocity shots to set up easy return volleys for Mueller in doubles play. At singles, Horiuchi thrives on unpredictable placement to keep opponents guessing — and frustrated.

“There more you hit it where they don’t expect it, the angrier they get and that plays to your advantage,” said Horiuchi, whose father, Yusaku, is a professor at Dartmouth College. “The stronger the opponent, the less frustrated they get, and that’s when it becomes a game of power.”

Horiuchi is but one piece of a dominant Hanover team that is 15-0 while outscoring opponents in aggregate matches, 113-2. The Marauders’ only pair of losses came when non-starters were inserted against Bishop Brady and Coe-Brown early in the season, and even those setbacks were of the 9-8, tiebreaker variety.

With a strong mix of upperclassmen and youth, Mueller, fellow seniors Brendan Barth and Sandy Yu, freshman Henry Pletcher and sophomore Jackson Greenspan are all undefeated in singles play, with all but Greenspan perfect in doubles.

Lewis, the River Valley Club tennis director and fourth-year Hanover coach, has called this year’s team the most talented he’s coached and the deepest in any New Hampshire division this season.

Even Lewis is surprised that none of his starters have suffered a singles loss all year.

“It’s not something you ever expect, just because there are so many (variables) in tennis,” he said. “Kids play sick, have off days, the weather can be a factor. There are just all kinds of things that can come up.”

After losing in the final to Bedford each of the last two years, last year by a single match, Lewis said anything but a state championship this season would be a disappointment. Hanover’s last title came in 2009, its fourth in six years.

With the Bulldogs now playing in D-I, Hanover’s biggest obstacle figures to be top-ranked Portsmouth (15-0), which the Marauders didn’t face in the regular season. The Clippers take on No. 5 Oyster River in the semis today after beating eighth-ranked Hollis-Brookline in Tuesday’s quarters.

“(Portsmouth has) a good No. 1 (Iani Stamenov), and I’m sure they feel they’re pretty deep,” said Lewis said. “It’ll be a challenge for us.”

The Marauders will have to first take care of No. 3 Lebanon at either Storrs Pond Recreation Area (weather permitting) or Dartmouth College’s Boss Tennis Center this afternoon. Hanover beat the Raiders 9-0 twice in the regular season, including the finale at home eight days ago.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.