Boys tennis preview: Exodus at the top means big challenge for 4th straight title
Published 1:01 am, Thursday, April 15, 2010
After claiming the Class M state title for three consecutive years, the Darien High School boys tennis team is witness to a great deal of change. Gone are six players from last year's state championship team, including the Blue Wave's two top singles players and half of last season's No. 1 doubles team.
Those losses, coupled with the fact Darien's has moved into Class L, have left the Blue Wave unsettled internally about its lineup and externally about its competition.
"The goal every year is to make the FCIAC playoffs and go to states and represent the school well," third-year head coach Tom Stepkoski said. "Losing so much from last year, it'll be good for us to make FCIACs."
Stepkoski will rely heavily on his quartet of senior captains -- Charlie Taylor, Britt Gordon, Louie Rawden and Reilly Harmer -- to steady the Blue Wave and keep Darien playing deep into the postseason.
"The boys are used to winning. They know how to win," Stepkoski said of his team, which has been a mainstay in the FCIAC semifinals the past three years. "It's just a matter of do we have the talent?"
Taylor, who was part of last year's Class M doubles championship team with Martin Hannon, has undergone the transition into a singles players. The switch over has worked well for the senior, who will replace Dane Gebauer in the No. 1 singles slot.
Taylor, who has never played singles for the Blue Wave, has transformed his game from an at-the-net approach to playing at the baseline, which should allow him to better utilize a strong forehand.
"I'm definitely going to have to change up my game a lot, going to have to use my baseline game and be aggressive." said Taylor, who believes his serve could help him steal some points."
Taylor ran track this winter, helping his endurance, which will be more of a factor against some of the FCIAC's top competition.
Gordon, Rawden and Reilly are all battling for position in Darien's No. 2 through 4 singles slots. With all three competing at a high level, no one has distinguish himself above the others.
"We don't have the typical No. 1 or 2 caliber of player you usually see," Stepkoski said, referring to the USTA-level talent Greenwich and New Canaan have atop their lineup. "We're very solid in the middle. I would say between 2 and 5 we're very competitive."
That depth could come in handy, as Stepkoski expects whoever gets slotted No. 4 to wrack up crucial victories for the Blue Wave.
"The No. 4 kid, that's where we're going to probably garner most of our wins," Stepkoski said.
Stepkoski is hopefully the lineup he decides on will remain the same all year, but is open to change if it is warranted.
"We're going to try to stick with it," he said. "But as the players get better, than we'll set up the intrasquad challenge matches."
Inclement weather has limited Darien's practice time this, but it finally got going with the gorgeous, warm weather last Tuesday. Until that point it was difficult for Stepkoski to settle on a lineup. Dennis Conetta is among a group in the running for the No. 5 singles slot.
"Right now he looks like he can be (No.) 5, but I've seen about two or three kids that can challenge him," Stepkoski said.
Sam Jackson, a senior, is the only doubles player that has solidified a spot. Jackson will make up one-half of the No. 1 doubles pair. His partner will come from a group of players that will also determine the Blue Wave's second doubles pairing.