Physical fitness requirements for tennis players at Potomac this season have changed for the better. Coaches Chris Taylor and Mike Carver have implemented long-distance running, wind sprints and weightlifting to improve players' on-court endurance.
Taylor, a first-year coach and former Potomac player, expects better conditioning, combined with steady improvement on the court, to propel his young team into contention in the Cedar Run District.
The Panthers are 1-5 overall this season, but Taylor said the senior-less team will be more competitive during the second half of this season and next year. Several players have tired out during matches, Taylor said, and some of the Panthers are new to the sport. He said anyone who tried out for the team expecting only some light recreation miscalculated.
"I want them to take it serious," he said. "It's a varsity sport, and they're competing in it."
So Taylor and Carver, who also coaches wrestling at Potomac, have emphasized conditioning from the start. During practice they split the team into two groups for drill competition, with the losers required to run additional laps.
Taylor said the players have accepted the new training model and are eager to improve their skills and the program -- although they do what they can to avoid laps.
On the court, freshman Patrick Sengsourinh, the No. 2 singles player, has begun his first competitive season 2-4, with two of the losses coming in three-set matches. Taylor said Sengsourinh has to improve his conditioning because his energy level fell in both third sets.
Taylor wants to improve the strength of both Sengsourinh and sophomore No. 1 Kyle Carter (1-5) and would like as well to add a point-ending forehand weapon to their repertoire.
Still, for players to improve, Taylor said, they must commit to the sport year-round. The coach knows firsthand. He joined the Panthers as a freshman in 1991 without any training. Eventually, after playing at various singles spots, he made No. 1 singles his senior season in 1994.
Osbourn Begins 7-0
Osbourn marched through the first half of the season with the precision and consistency expected of a team with its returning nucleus. The Eagles are 7-0 and considered the top team in the Cedar Run or Cardinal districts.
"We're having a good year," Coach Glen Strickland said. "That's, I guess, an understatement."
The Eagles have dropped just one individual match this season, against Osbourn Park last week. Strickland said the Yellow Jackets pressured and pushed his team unlike any other this season. He welcomed the test, saying his players were forced to hit winners instead of relying on unforced errors.
The Eagles' No. 1 doubles team of John Weber and David O'Brien defeated Nathaniel Baker and Will Mason, pulling out the 7-5 win in a tiebreaker after battling to 10-10.
Weber said the match was intense because the players are friends and sometimes practice together. The cold weather, he said, also made the match difficult.
"I couldn't feel one of my hands," he said. "All of my shots started going into the net or long. I started to double fault."
Strickland said grueling matches help to combat complacency, which can be problematic with undefeated teams.
"If we're going to hold the same edge, we have to improve our performance from where we are right now," he said. "I think that's going to happen. Most teams improve" as the season goes on.
Tendinitis in his right shoulder has forced junior Kevin Cretella, Forest Park's No. 1 singles player, to serve underhanded this season.
To start a point, Cretella tosses the ball in the air and hits a forehand to his opponent. The serve, which lands soft and short, isn't nearly as effective as a traditional overhead serve, but he has made the best of the situation.
Cretella, who was scheduled to see a doctor this week, has won four in a row after losing matches against Osbourn and Osbourn Park.
Bruins Coach Steve Davis said Cretella is getting comfortable with the motion and most likely will not serve overhand until the Northwestern Region championships, if he makes it.
Indians' Coach Concerned
Like most teams in the area, Gar-Field (2-4) will have a full schedule of matches next week after three were canceled last week. The Indians play on four consecutive days, April 22-25.
The schedule concerns Indians Coach Jason Viggiani, who has six players on his squad, just enough to field a team. If one player goes down, he must forfeit two matches.
"I'm holding my breath every time I see someone go down," Viggiani said. "Even when they're fooling around, I'm like stop, stop, stop." . . .
Stonewall Jackson competed in a four-team tournament on Saturday at Stafford. The Raiders (2-5) lost to North Stafford and Stafford.