Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bullis tennis takes third in nation

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The Bullis boys tennis team has mastered area tennis since its 2005 resurgence. The two-time defending Interstate Athletic Conference and season-ending Ben Johns tournament champion Bulldogs are currently riding a 35-match winning streak and have dropped only five individual matches in dual play this year.

So, after dominating local competition, they’ve set out to establish themselves on the national level. And, with a 6-3 win over St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio) Saturday to clinch third at the National High School Coaches Association Boys Tennis Invitational in Cincinnati, they did just that.

Bullis qualified for the tournament by winning the Eastern Region Championship in New Jersey April 6-7. It joined three other region champions — No. 1 seeded Sacred Heart (California), second-seeded Xavier and Dr. Michael Krop (Miami) — to compete for its first national title since 1983 and second overall.

Bullis lost to eventual champion and top-seeded Sacred Heart, 6-3, in the first round before defeating St. Xavier. Sacred Heart defeated Michael Krop, 6-3, in the final.

‘‘Unquestionably, playing this series of tournaments motivated the boys more,” 17-year Bullis coach Jack Schore said. ‘‘It’s something a little more special. I’m hoping our school understands the magnitude of what these kids have done, because it wasn’t easy.”

The Bulldogs (7-0) adjusted well to the different match format used at nationals. In the IAC, the top four play singles, followed by three doubles matches. All matches are best-of-three sets. In Cincinnati, the team’s top six players played both singles and doubles. And were eight-game sets — it’s important to get off to a good start because you can’t start over in a new set.

Immense depth is what separates Bullis from its competitors. With seven players set to play at college next year, including senior No. 1 Will Beck (University of Kentucky) and senior No. 2 Andrew Zutz (Notre Dame), the Bulldogs are just stronger from top to bottom than most teams they face.

Beck, ranked No. 90 nationally in the USTA’s Boys 18s, was named to the all-tournament team. He went 4-0 in Cincinnati, including two doubles wins with Bulldogs’ junior No. 3 Chris Seckman.

Senior No. 4 Casey Fashouer, freshman No. 5 Taylor Hairston and No. 6, senior Doug Silverstein, all picked up wins Saturday. Fashouer and Silverstein both overcame early deficits — Fashouer trailed 4-1 and Silverstein 3-0 — to clinch come-from-behind wins.

‘‘I thought in both matches, everyone played heard, they played their games and they played within themselves,” Schore said. ‘‘You can’t ask for more.”

Traveling together, competing for such a coveted honor — national champion — has brought the Bulldogs closer than ever. The pressure of playing for best friends, for teammates, exceeds that of playing individually. The Bulldogs handled that well and Schore expects that to pay off down the final stretch of the season.

‘‘Playing these type of matches is what these kids need as players moving forward,” Schore said. ‘‘I think it’ll benefit the team as they go on in their tennis careers. They competed hard as a team, which is a different pressure, an increased pressure than when you’re playing for yourself. I think now, when they play for themselves, they’ll be able to sustain that pressure. ... These kids have faced the best and they’ve come up strongly.”