Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bullis boys back on top of IAC, again

Bulldogs tennis team wins fourth straight IAC title

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Murmurs of the Bullis boys tennis team’s alleged vulnerability circled around the local high school tennis scene early this spring. The Bulldogs, who entered this season 41-0 since 2005, lost seven of their top 10 players from 2007 and even 27-year coach Jack Schore was uncertain what this season had in store for his charges. But after opening its 2008 campaign with its first loss in four years, a 4-3 decision to Flint Hill (Oakton, Va.) on April 2, Bullis secured its fourth-consecutive Interstate Athletic Conference title with a 4-3 win over St. Albans last Tuesday.

The Bulldogs (9-2) are now focused on closing out the season on a high note with their fourth-straight season-ending Ben John’s tournament title. The Ben Johns will be contested May 7-9 at Episcopal in Alexandria, Va. Though Bullis is favored to win, it’ll have to survive a field of strong competitors, including Episcopal (9-2), county foe Georgetown Prep (9-4) and St. Albans.

‘‘We come into this season and these boys are very young and they think, ‘Hey, we’re supposed to be big winners,’” said Schore, who is stepping down at Bullis after the season. ‘‘After losing the first match we could’ve gone into a tailspin. But these guys have done a great job. They’ve exceeded my expectations. ... This Ben John’s tournament is a great tradition in our conference. It’s a three-day thing and you can’t take anything for granted on the first day and you can’t take anything for granted on the last day.”

Bullis has already beaten all the teams participating in this week’s tournament. But winning the Ben Johns, where each position — Nos. 1-4 singles and Nos. 1-3 doubles — plays in its own flight, is different than winning dual matches. It comes down to overall team depth, draws and perseverance. Each win, whether at No. 1 singles or No. 3 doubles and whether in the finals or the consolation bracket earns teams points. Each position, each win, is just as important as the next.

And, though the team as a whole has defeated the field at the Ben Johns, each individual did not always win at every match.

‘‘Everybody understands they’ve got to pull their own weight,” Schore said. ‘‘A lot of these guys are first-year members. As the season has progressed they’ve gotten used to the pressure of playing for a team. They’ve done a great job in that respect.”

The Bulldogs are led by sophomore No. 1 Taylor Hairston (7-4), senior No. 2 Chris Seckman (9-1), junior No. 3 Alvin Fludd (11-0), freshman No. 4 Daniel Gray (9-1) and No. 1 doubles duo Harper Leahy and Paul Park (10-1). With each win Schore’s young charges have picked up confidence; learned some lessons. And they’re eager to put their improvements on display this week.

‘‘I told the guys after we clinched the IAC title, the only thing we have left is the Ben Johns tournament,” Schore said. ‘‘And we’ve beaten every team in the tournament. But a couple of those matches were close. Now it’s time to get a look at who’s improved the most over the year. Either you show them you’ve gotten better than you were before. Or you’ve lost ground to them. That’s the challenge.”

Junior No. 1 Patrick Mulquin, senior No. 2 Phil Casey, sophomore No. 3 John Macomber, junior No. 4 Robert Olson and senior No. 1 doubles Billy Maloney and Remy Mooney, lead Prep’s contingent. The Little Hoyas shared the IAC title with Episcopal and Landon in 2003 and are on the verge of returning to that form. They look to get back to the top of the conference at this week’s tournament.