There are a few things Fairfax County residents can always count on this time of year: budding flowers, warmer temperatures and Langley tennis dominance among them.
That last item has so far been more reliable this spring than any weather-related trends. The Saxons’ varsity boys tennis squad is 10-0, and their young lineup forecasts yet more domination in the coming weeks and years.
Back to headline the Conference 6 juggernaut this year is Kevin Shen, a three-star recruit who burst onto the scene last year as the team’s freshman phenom. Shen reached the state singles tournament last season after falling to McLean’s Nik Padmanabhan 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 in the regional singles final. With nothing but decisive wins so far this season, Shen is looking for more this time around.
“I’m just hoping to top that off this year and just keep doing better as days go by,” Shen said.
Shen’s killer serve and sound fundamentals helped him stay consistent despite facing older opponents week after week last year. More experience has made him more assertive in 2014, infusing him with a confidence that will be tough for any opponent to overcome as the postseason nears.
“I think he’s at his best when he’s really moving forward and playing aggressively and offensively,” Langley coach Jack Porter said. “When he hits the ball hard and moves forward, he’s unbeatable.”
Langley junior James Schenck, one of the team’s three captains this year, started the season at the No. 1 spot, but Shen overtook him in a challenge match right before spring break. A grinder who thrives on baseline precision and an improved serve, Schenck leads a core of seven juniors who appear poised to make the Saxons even stronger next year. Senior captain Chase Lewis sits behind him at No. 3, while sophomore Hammy Abuhamda thrives in the No. 4 slot.
According to Porter, all four of those guys can beat each other on any given day. That bodes well for a potential playoff matchup against Lake Braddock, whose core of Jacob Daugherty, Alex Nesterovich, Eric Yoo and Long Huynh comprises the only group deep enough to really rival the Saxons in the 6A North Region this year. The Bruins are especially hungry to take out Langley this season, having fallen to the Saxons 5-1 in the regional tournament each of the last three years.
Though they compete in different conferences, Langley’s players have enough familiarity with the Bruins to make them ready for the potential rematch.
“We all play each other in USTA,” Schenck said. “They’re all in the mix, so we know how they are. It’s definitely going to be a battle.”
One opponent the Saxons don’t have to worry about this spring is Jefferson. Northern Region champions four of the last five years, the Colonials will be down in Division 5 when the regional tournament gets going in late May. Langley might not have minded either way, though, as they snapped Jefferson’s 22-match win streak with a 5-2 victory against them last month.
Langley’s consistency — they’ve appeared in the region finals each of the last three years — is something to behold, but it all boils down to a simple formula.
“Every year I have only two goals for them,” Porter said. “That is, they come out to improve their game, and they have fun. Everything else is a byproduct. We work hard at trying to improve our game. It’s a collaborative effort. I don’t come in saying it’s my way or the highway.”
If the Saxons continue at their current pace, that way could lead them toward a state title that has eluded them since 1994.