The J.E.B. Stuart boys varsity tennis team is set to cruise to the National District title this season, flaunts an unblemished record of 10-0 and features one of the top youth tennis players in the country — and head coach Matt Hills is worried.
The path to the team's current perch has been easy, a little too easy in Hill's eyes. What Hills is focused on, more than the remaining scheduled games against Edison, Washington-Lee and the National District Tournament on May 5, is a looming potential meeting with an accomplished squad from Fairfax in the opening round of the Northern Regional Tournament. Hills fears that his team, who has grown accustomed to winning, has not grown accustomed to battling to earn them.
“I've been scared of this all year,” Hills said. “If we face Fairfax in the first round, they will be a better team than we've faced all season long. It could be a 5-4 game and our doubles games are going to be important when they haven't been all year.”
The reason the Raiders' doubles matches have been meaningless is because Stuart has crushed its competition in 2008. Over the course of the season, the Raiders have just dropped one individual match, posting a collective record of 89-1.
Hills' team has cruised due to a combination of a weak field of district competition and an influx of epic talent. The Raiders have warmly welcomed transfers sophomore Abdul Al-Hogbani, currently third on the Stuart ladder, and professional tennis prospect sophomore Justin Shane. Shane, the Raiders' No. 1 singles player, is currently ranked No. 2 in the 16 and under division for the Mid-Atlantic region, and is No. 34 nationally for that same age group.
“He pretty much kills anyone he plays,” Hills said of his top player. “It's almost not fair. His technique is almost perfect and he never looks like he's struggling, never looks like he's frustrated. He's just one of those kids that woke up with the tennis gene.”
Hills stresses that his squad's success has not entirely centered around Shane, though that much is obvious from the roundly lopsided match results. The rest of the team is comprised of Daniel Santos (No. 2), Dee Jay Bletso (No. 4), Soham Banerjee (No. 5), Deniz Babaoglu (No. 6) and doubles specialist Chris Goslin. Hills believes that he will need significant contributions from all of them if his team is to match up with Fairfax and prevail.
The Raiders still have to navigate the rest of their schedule before reaching the regionals, however. Stuart continued its push Wednesday against Edison. Results were not available at press time.
The Raiders close out their regular season Thursday, May 1, on the road against Washington-Lee.
On Tuesday, April 29, the team faced down Wakefield and again claimed a flawless 9-0 victory, though the match had some tense individual matches, including at No. 3 doubles. Bletso and Goslin would need a tie-breaker to defeat their opponents, 9-8 (7-5).
It may be ironic, but perhaps that close call will help Hills rest a little easier regarding the Raiders' post-season chances.