Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Will Bullis tennis come back to the pack in IAC tennis ranks?

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It would not have been assuming too much to just write Bullis’ name on the Interstate Athletic Conference boys tennis champion’s plaque at the start of the last three seasons. No one had a realistic shot at winning the title during that stretch except the Bulldogs, who are 41-0 since 2005.

But part of what makes high school sports so interesting is the constant revolving door of players. Team dynamics change and it’s hard to stay at the top for too long. Bullis remains one of the stronger teams in 2008, but after graduating seven of its top 10 players, it’s no longer a shoe-in for the title. There’s a more level playing field this year with several teams, like fellow Montgomery County foe Georgetown Prep, in the mix. And it should make for more intriguing competition.

”I think everyone has a great shot at winning the IAC this year,” 18-year Bullis coach Jack Schore said. ‘‘Even though we’re a bit depleted, everyone’s going to be gunning for us. Everyone feels they have a great shot at winning the league and they do. I think what gives us the most motivation is knowing where Bullis has been. The kids know we’ve had a winning tradition and they want to keep it going.”

In 2007 Bullis not only established itself as the best high school team in the Mid-Atlantic area, but one of the top teams in the nation. The Bulldogs finished fourth of 16 of the country’s top teams at the Corona del Mar Invitational in California last March, and followed that up with a first-place finish at the Eastern Regional Championship in New Jersey in April. That win qualified them for the National High School Coaches Association Tennis Invitational high school national championships, where they finished third.

Bullis, which swept all seven brackets for its third consecutive season-ending Ben Johns tournament title last season, has thrived off the perfect combination of star power and depth the past three years. It lost a little in both areas, but still boasts a strong lineup.

Sophomore No. 1 singles player Taylor Hairston, who won the No. 4 singles title at last year’s Ben Johns, and senior No. 2 Chris Seckman (No. 2 singles title), who’ll play at George Washington next year, return to the singles lineup. Junior Alvin Fludd, who was part of last year’s Ben Johns No. 1 doubles champion, will step into the No. 3 singles slot and freshman Daniel Gray will start at No. 4.

Predominately freshmen and sophomores, the Bulldogs will be raw early on. But to Schore there’s no greater challenge than taking a young team and building it up. The potential is there, it’s just how the Bulldogs react in clutch situations.

‘‘I think the biggest key to our success is these guys feeling that the responsibility is on them,” Schore said. ‘‘They have to come out and play, no excuses. I want them to understand they need to take responsibility. They can’t look down the road at someone else to help them out. I look for them to learn and mature early.”

Prep (12-4 record in 2007) only lost three players from last year’s second-place IAC squad. The Little Hoyas return their top four players — junior Patrick Mulquin, senior Phil Casey, sophomore John Macomber, junior Robert Olson — and No. 1 doubles team of seniors Billy Maloney and Remy Mooney.

Prep shared the IAC title in 2003 with Episcopal and Landon. This year’s contingent is its best since that run and the Little Hoyas are keen on taking advantage.

‘‘We’re looking forward to playing Bullis, that gives everyone on our team something to shoot for,” 10-year Prep coach Keith MacKinnon said. ‘‘But I don’t want to just focus on Bullis. I think we’ll be really enthusiastic this year.”