Tennis works to stay king of the courts


photo courtesy of Gregg Zelkin

The team received its state rings during halftime of the homecoming football game this past fall (top).

A deep, riveting silence. A quiet tension amongst the crowd A palpable, nervous building of energy with nothing but the exchange of rackets striking a ball and the squeaking of sneakers to break it. Then, a mishit, an outcall, a cry of victory and the roar of the crowd. The 2014 LB boys’ tennis team had just won the state championship.

Last year, boys’ varsity tennis saw an eclectic group of highly-talented players all united under the same common goal: to reach and win the state championship. And, as the final set of their season ended, they had achieved just that.

This spring, the tennis team unites once again to try to make a run back to states in order to defend their title. The bad news: they have three spots vacated by graduated seniors. The good news: they have the skill on the roster to do it.

With the loss of six senior members, including last year’s captain, Long Huynh and first team All-Met Jacob Daugherty, the team has its work cut out for it. Yet, this year’s team also sports six returning seniors. Along with them come three juniors, four sophomores and four freshman players, all of them ready to take on the challenge of returning to states.

“We have a great team returning this year,” senior co-captain Mike Rochlis said. “We are confident that we can get back to that level but we have to continue to work hard.”

A particularly heavy weight rests on the shoulders of senior co-captains Nick O’Connor and Rochlis.

“It’s a lot to live up to,” Rochlis said, “because we had so many great seniors last year who were crucial in helping us win a state championship.”

As with any sports team, a great deal of the responsibility falls on the seniors to set an example for the younger players and win games for the team.

“I am glad to be able to be in a leadership role now having experienced such a great year last year,” Rochlis said. “[I want to] help the younger guys get better.”

Though there is change in the roster, the mentality and dedication towards the team, as well as each player’s own individual improvement has not slackened.

“It’s up to each person individually [to train in the offseason],” sophomore Eric Yoo said.

Rebuilding a team while trying to return to states is no easy feat, but nevertheless, it is the only path for the tennis team.

“Our goal this year, like every year,” Rochlis said, “is to win states.”

Though every year’s goal may be the same, newer and tougher challenges appear with each coming season.

“I think [the biggest challenge] will be to get everyone in the top six used to [playing],” Rochlis said. “There is definitely an adjustment going from not playing in the top six to playing in the top six. We had three guys from our top six graduate, so there is a fair amount of changeover.”

Even with these challenges ahead of them, the tennis team is ready and willing to be state contenders once again.

“[We can make states] if everyone continues to stay focused and work hard,” Rochlis said. “Everyone has put in a lot of work so far and more needs to be done, but we definitely have the talent to make it back to where we were last year.”

So far this season, the Bruins have beaten Lee, South County and West Springfield and lost to West Potomac and Woodson. The two losses were both tightly contested, with many close matches proving to be the difference.

“We’ve just been a bit unlucky in the matches we lost so far,” senior Alex Nesterovich said. “At West Potomac we lost a series of 10-8 matches, and at Woodson, Eric and I had two very tight matches that could have flipped the result.”

With two losses this season, the Bruins have a deficit to make up in playing to make the state tournament. However, with a steady lineup mentored by experienced coach Bill Hughes, they have a good chance to continue last year’s success.