The Peninsula Athletic League boys’ tennis season is in full swing and while the recent weather has put a damper on the schedule, the break allows us to take a look at a season now three-weeks old.
There’s a log jam at the top of the Bay Division, with three teams currently at 3-1, and another, Menlo-Atherton, leading the charge at 4-1.
The Bears, along with Carlmont, appear to be the consensus favorites to stand atop the division at year’s end.
"It’s going to be a great year,” said Scots head coach Amina Halsey. "We have a great batch of players. We did lose a lot of seniors, however, we have a lot of players that have stepped up into their spots and done a lot for the team.
"We try to keep them fairly grounded. Yes, they’re a good team, but like any good team, everybody else is after them, trying to beat them. So, they have to keep their focus on each individual match.”
Leading the way for the Scots is No. 1 singles player Corey Pang, who has the potential to have a Player of the Year kind of season.
"He’s better than what he was last year,” Halsey said. "He’s a good leader for the team. He’s worked very hard over the last year and it’s starting to pay off.”
Carlmont doesn’t lack depth. Matt Sidell and Pete Eakin are No. 2 and 3 in singles. And the doubles teams are anchored by Ben Knoot and Byron Wu.
M-A will be tough though. The Bears defeated Carlmont 5-2 earlier in the year. "They’re going to be a very, very big hurdle,” Halsey said. "Coming out the second time around, it’s going to be about consistency, patience — patience is key.”
If it’s a two-team battle at the top, it’s a three or four team battle for second and third spots in the division. Hoping to capitalize is a balanced Aragon team, who boasts youth in the singles and veteran leadership in the doubles.
"We’ve very young in singles,” said Dons head coach Dave Owdom. "But they’re playing tough people and playing them tough. And that’s good for them. Sometimes you have to get beat up to get better. They’ve had a little learning in the non-league.”
Aragon’s non-league scheduled featured tough matches against Palo Alto, Crystal Springs Uplands and Serra — all potential CCS teams.
"We’ve had very good non-league matches, which made my kids tougher,” Owdom said. "Every match we play is going to be a close match. Our league is going to be very competitive after the first two spots.”
The Dons are led by their doubles teams, more appropriately, their No. 1 pair in Thomas Pauly and Evan Lee; Quentin Buellan and Matthew Fowler appear to have the No. 2 spot cemented.
In the singles, Owdom hopes for a good year from a couple of youngster in their 3-4 spots.
Issac Wang, sophomore, is a promising talent at the No. 3 spot.
"He’s just been awesome,” Owdom said. "He is ... so smooth with his footwork and form and he does every thing to the book. He plays everyone tough. His nerves have always been steel. It doesn’t seem to bother him when he gets into tie-breakers or super tie-breakers. He’s in a lot of close matches. He’s got some real good mental toughness.”
In the four spot, freshman Kevin Nguyen will take the lead.
"He’s still learning,” Owdom said. "He’s very motivated and wants to be good, he gets everything back, chases balls down, he just needs to get a little more experience, a little smarter and he can win some of the close ones that he’s lost — a little seasoning is what he needs.”
"I have confidence and faith in them,” Owdom said of his team’s outlook. "They just have to have it in themselves. You can’t give that to somebody. You have to believe in yourself. The mental toughness is the difference. If you’re smart, you have that tenacity, you win.”
A program that knows a thing or two about winning is Burlingame. But this year brings coach Bill Smith his youngest team in memory.
"We’re a young squad,” Smith said. "[We] got a very good freshman in, don’t have a senior in the lineup, a lot of juniors.”
The Panthers are so young that Smith and Burlingame broke a bit of tradition when handling the uniform duties. The task of choosing, sizing and such is usually left to the senior captain, but with none this season, the juniors took up the task.
On the court, Burlingame looks to a freshman, Scott Taggart, for leadership at the No. 1 singles.
"Taggart stepped right into the role at No. 1,” Smith said. It’s not the first time it’s happened and it won’t be the last. But he’s a legit tournament player, good overall game and the experience will be good for him. Real good kid, wants to learn and it’s a pleasure to have a kid like that around.”
Matt Miller takes over the No. 2 duties.
"[He’s a] hardworker, and the typical steady grinder type of player,” Smith said. "He’s going to frustrate the opponent by just being there. He’s not going to take many risks, (he’ll) play the percentages. He’s not going to dominate his opponent with anything but will power. That’s his forte.”
Interestingly, what the lack of seniors on the Panthers’ team does provide for is plenty of opportunity for in-team competition. The No. 4 singles, plus all six doubles positions, are being heavily contested.
"We should be fighting to get a spot in our PAL playoff and see where we go from there,” Smith said.