Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Bullis tennis thinking national

Bullis 6, Whitman 1

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Bullis’s Andrew Zutz returns a shot from Whitman’s Kirby Mayo during the No. 2 singles match Friday. Zutz beat Mayo in two sets, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) and Bullis won easily, 6-1.
The Bullis boys tennis team’s 6-1 victory Friday at Whitman didn’t do anything for its Interstate Athletic Conference ranking, but the match was just as important to the Bulldogs as any on their schedule.

Bullis (2-0), keen on completing its third-consecutive undefeated season and IAC three-peat, has established itself in the last two years as one of the Washington area’s premier teams. Now the Bulldogs are eager to prove themselves on a grander stage — nationally.

Bullis — which finished fourth among 16 top high-school teams from around the country at the Corona del Mar Invitational in Newport Beach, Calif. last weekend — will travel to New Jersey for the National High School Tennis Team Invitational Friday and Saturday. If the Bulldogs win that tournament, they’ll qualify for the National High School Tennis Team Championships later this season. And Friday’s dual against one of the area’s strongest public school teams served as good preparation.

‘‘Winning matches like [Friday’s] is important,” said Bullis No. 2 singles player Andrew Zutz, who defeated Whitman’s Kirby Mayo in a tight 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) battle. ‘‘We built up our hardest schedule in four years. If we can get through it, we can legitimize ourselves.

‘‘We know we’re one of the best teams around here. We want to test ourselves against the nation. It’s great to have these national tournaments. We can go and show off what the Mid-Atlantic Section has. It’d be great to win a national championship.”

Friday’s match was closer than the score suggests. The win was Bullis’ second straight 6-1 victory over Whitman. But this year’s match was tougher than last year’s. The 2005 Montgomery Division I champion Vikings dropped off a bit in 2006, but Friday’s performance proved they’re ready to be back on top.

Playing without two of their top three singles players — No. 1 Dan Stahl and No. 3 Carlos Palacio — they tested Bullis. But like the true, seasoned champions they are, the Bulldogs were able to raise their game when they needed to.

Bullis No. 3 singles player Chris Seckman, No. 4 Casey Fashouer, No. 1 doubles Brian Lee and Alvin Fludd and No. 2 doubles Taylor Hairston and Doug Silverstein all won their matches handily.

Seckman defeated Billy Daniels, 6-1, 6-1. Fashouer cruised to a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Arvin Wong; Lee and Fludd nabbed a 6-2, 6-2 win over Pablo Gottret and Pat Coan; and Hairston and Silverstein picked up a 6-3, 6-0 win over Aaron Hoffman and Victor Osnos.

Zutz, who will play at Notre Dame next year, used his consistent ground game to wear Mayo down in the first set. But Whitman’s No. 4 singles player, who stepped in at No. 2 Friday, altered his game in the second set. Realizing Zutz thrives off opponents’ power, he cut down on his own unforced errors, slowed the pace on his shots and forced Zutz to generate his own power.

Bullis’ No. 2, who compiled a 19-0 record last season, struggled to adjust, but was able to play with controlled aggression to ultimately prevail. He worked the points well with his steady groundstrokes, yanking Mayo around the baseline, and pounced on the short replies.

Beck, who lost to Stahl in last year’s No. 1 singles dual, defeated Tim Klanke in two close sets, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5. The match was battle between 6-foot-4 Beck’s power and Klanke’s wall-like consistency. Beck, slated to play at the University of Kentucky next season, used a combination of power and finesse — he has good touch and agility for a tall player — to clinch the win.

Whitman’s lone victory Friday came at No. 3 doubles, when Craig Miller and David Park rebounded from a second-set loss to pull out a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) win over Alex Jackson and Chris Latham.

Though Friday marked Whitman’s first loss of the season, the Vikings know matches against Bullis are invaluable.

‘‘It’s great experience to play Bullis,” Mayo said. ‘‘They’re obviously the best in the area. So now when we play teams like Churchill and Blair, we’re ready for the big matches. I think we can definitely win the division and the county. Having close matches with Bullis, that really builds our confidence. We’re a lot more experienced than last year with all four singles returning.”

The ability to find that new gear in the clutch helped Bullis Friday. And it will certainly help them in New Jersey against some of the toughest high-school teams on the East Coast. Many of the Bulldogs compete on the U.S. Tennis Association nationally or in the Mid-Atlantic section. But that’s individually. And winning a national team event, representing their school, would be a big feat.

‘‘If we were able to win the national championship, that would definitely be up there in tennis accomplishments,” Zutz said. ‘‘To be recognized as national champion anything, that’s something to be proud of. And representing our school, that would be maybe the best thing for all of us in tennis.”