The Serra High tennis team had superior talent at the top, but visiting St. Ignatius had superior depth.
Nathan Mollat / Daily Journal
Ray Worley, Serra's No. 2 singles player, returns a shot during his 6-1, 6-1 win over St. Ignatius.
And for the second time this season, depth proved to be the decisive factor. The Padres dropped a 5-2 decision on Thursday at the Elks Club. Serra (6-6 WCAL, 11-9 overall) received wins at No. 1 and 2 singles from Spencer Talmadge and Ray Worley. No surprise there, considering Talmadge is 17-1 on the year and Worley 16-2.
However, the Wildcats were superior in every other spot, winning in straight sets. The Padres' No. 3 and 4 singles players -- J.R. Ferrer (6-3, 7-5) and Jordan Domanico (6-4, 6-3) -- put up competitive matches, as did the No. 3 doubles squad of Joe Gogol and Jack Rieflin, who lost 6-3, 7-5.
"On balance, SI had a little more depth," Serra eighth-year coach Tom Stone said. "We lost this one but I felt we played SI better than the last time we lost to them. And that's all I can ask from my players is to improve every time we step on the court."
Stone said this is the best team he's fielded since he took over the program. It's easy to see why. Combining a mixture of top-flight junior players with competitive grinders, the Padres have a nice pool of young talent. Gogol and Rieflin, two of only three seniors in the starting lineup, are playing their first year of varsity tennis.
Gogol never came out for the team in his first two years, but gave it a go last year and made the junior varsity. While he and partner Rieflin are not the most experienced team out there, Stone said he loves the passion the duo have for the game, while also complimenting their competitiveness and enthusiasm.
The same could be said of Ferrer, who was up against a more talented opponent but nearly extended the match to a third set. Using a consistent, topspin-driven backhand, Ferrer hit a number of quality shots and played just about as well as he could. Worley was on top of his game, too, using a punishing backcourt game to go along with an improving net game for an easy 6-1, 6-1 win over Nick Bonn.
"Ray is one of the more competitive players I've seen," Stone said. "He's just ferocious, and he's really got a big game to go along with it."
Then there's Talmadge, a sensational junior who will be a threat to win the WCAL and Central Coast Section singles titles. Calm and quiet on the court, Talmadge's expression rarely changes. For most of the match on Thursday, he wore a bit of a scowl. But trust him when he says he's having a lot of fun playing tennis, and you would be having a good time too if you possessed his game.
Simply put, Talmadge has all the shots, and one point illustrated it perfectly. Returning the first point of the eighth game in the second set, Talmadge started the rally by slicing the ball three times, each shot traveling lower than the previous one. Then he switched things up and hit a couple of two-handed backhands before absolutely hammering three straight forehands, his bread-and-butter shot.
With each shot, SI's Matt Micheli was pushed further and further away from the baseline because of the tremendous power, pace and topspin Talmadge was imparting on the ball. Serra's ace then showed his touch by hitting a drop shot, and the shot was so well-placed that Micheli could only push the ball back.
Talmadge followed his drop shot with a lob that Micheli could only watch helplessly drop in to finally end a well-played 21-stroke rally. For good measure, Talmadge used another one of his weapons -- a wicked kick second serve -- on match point down the middle that Micheli could barely get a racket on, capping a 7-5, 6-3 win.
"It was a tough match," Talmadge said. "I wasn't playing great, and he played well. I was just trying to find a way to win. He knows how to play me and it was a struggle out there."
Said Stone: "Even if Spencer isn't feeling his best, he finds a way to win. That tells you everything you need to know about him and his desire to be the best."