Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bullis boys tennis is going national

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The Bullis boys tennis team is familiar with the taste of success. The two-time defending Interstate Athletic Conference champion has won eight overall IAC titles and is 32-0 dating back to 2005.

But to 17-year coach Jack Schore, nothing felt quite as rewarding as watching his charges win three consecutive dual matches Friday at Mercer Park in West Windsor, N.J., to clinch the National High School Tennis Team Invitational Eastern Regional Championship.

With the win the Bulldogs qualified for the National High School Championships in Cincinnati April 21-22, where they’ll meet the country’s other three regional champions and compete for their first national title since 1983, second overall.

What made Friday’s win most impressive was the way Bullis stormed through two days’ worth of competition in one long, grueling day. The tournament, which featured eight of the top teams from the East Coast, was originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday. But with inclement weather forecasted for Saturday and uncertainty regarding available indoor facilities, the entire tournament was contested Friday.

Mental toughness proved just as important as physical prowess, both of which the Bulldogs possess. And they proved themselves mentally strong Friday, maintaining a consistently high level of intensity and focus throughout the more than 15-hour day to defeat three strong teams.

‘‘For me, I’ve been coaching for a long time,” Schore said. ‘‘And as far as the history of Bullis tennis, I think this was the single greatest moment. To win three matches in one day. ... I think the kids just really wanted it. Their energy level coming in was extremely high, I could see it. Everything just felt right, energy level, confidence level.”

Bullis dropped just one individual match in the first two rounds, wins over Moorestown (N.J.) and the Beacon School (N.Y.), to set up a championship match against talented and deep St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio).

In the IAC, competitions consist of four singles matches and three doubles matches. In Friday’s tournament, however, the top six players played both singles and doubles.

St. Xavier’s entire singles lineup is comprised of USTA nationally ranked tournament players.

But led by seniors Will Beck, Andrew Zutz, Casey Fashouer and Doug Silverstein, junior Chris Seckman and freshman Taylor Hairston, the Bulldogs were able to pull out a 6-3 win, finishing up after midnight, to clinch the title.

Beck (2-1 through tournament), currently No. 90 in the USTA Boys 18s and set to play at the University of Kentucky next year, used power and versatility to seal an 8-6 win over St. Xavier’s No. 1 singles player Patrick Bandy (No. 774 in USTA 18s).

Nos. 2 and 4 singles, Zutz and Fashouer, both lost competitive singles matches but helped with an 8-5 win at No. 2 doubles.

Seckman, who teamed with Beck for an 8-5 win at No. 1 doubles, defeated John Drosick at No. 3 singles and Hairston, ranked No. 262 in the USTA Boys 16s, picked up an 8-7 (7-5) win over Marc Pretorius (No. 364 USTA Boys 16s). Senior No. 6 singles player Doug Silverstein remained undefeated Friday with a convincing 8-0 trouncing of Ryan Bandy (No. 381 USTA Boys 16s).

‘‘As we go along now, the boys are learning how deep they can get into focus and into energy,” Schore said. ‘‘They can take a look at what they did [Friday] when they were on top of it. It was a really great day. It was one day’s worth of tremendous effort. I don’t know if we’d thought about it prior to the tournament if we’d believe we could do that at such a high level.”

The majority of Bullis’ players are tournament tested. In addition to Beck and Hairston, Zutz, who’ll play at Notre Dame next year, is ranked in the top 230 nationally in the USTA Boys 18s and Seckman, Fashouer and Silverstein are all top USTA Mid-Atlantic Section players.

They’re all driven and have experienced individual success on the USTA circuit. But traveling together — they’re all good friends — and representing their school at the national level, proves a more meaningful experience.

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

Bullis (4-0 outside of tournament play) knows it’ll have to raise its game another notch in Cincinnati. It got a glimpse at the nation’s top teams when it competed at the Corona del Mar Invitational in California earlier this season. It finished fourth of 16 of the country’s best teams.

But the Bulldogs improved between then and last Friday. And Schore expects them to continue to put in the work and progress as the national championship approaches.

‘‘After California, I said to them, ‘If you want to do well in New Jersey, you’re going to have to get five percent better.’ And they did,” Schore said. ‘‘I know if they work hard, they can improve another five percent. And we’ll be in the ball game in Cincinnati.”