Jefferson tennis standout Chris Vrabel chose to sit out his junior season last spring, which helped him concentrate on the daunting academic load many high school students face in their third year.
But when Vrabel returned to the team this year, nothing had changed. He had helped the program win Virginia AAA Northern Region team titles as a freshman and sophomore — the latter year he also earned first team All-Met honors — and he helped lead the Colonials to a 14-0 regular-season record this year.
Vrabel’s dominance continued Monday as he won No. 1 singles to lead Jefferson to a 5-2 victory over Langley in the Virginia AAA Northern Region team championship at W.T. Woodson in Fairfax.
Vrabel defeated a game challenger in Langley’s Brandon Lee, rallying in the first set to eventually win, 6-4, 6-2. It was a crowning achievement for Vrabel, who will play at Cornell next year.
“I was disappointed I couldn’t play [last year], but I guess academics are first,” Vrabel said. “It’s definitely a big deal. I’m looking forward to states.”
Jefferson will host Freedom-South Riding, the Virginia AAA Northwest region runner-up, in the quarterfinals of the state tournament next Tuesday. Langley will travel to Northwest region winner Albemarle on Tuesday.
Vrabel was aggressive late against Lee, who looked like the stronger player in the early moments of the match Monday. His footwork put him in position to defend on a number of strong shots from Lee, and his lanky, 6-foot-2 frame made the difference in serves. Leading 5-4 in the first set, he overpowered an exhausted Lee with a number of serves, and finished the set off with a decisive backhand at the net, when he fully extended his arms and delivered the ball with a wicked backspin.
“I really just attacked the back end and tried to get to the net,” Vrabel said. Vrabel also teamed up with Kevin Wan to beat Lee and Hammy Abdu-Hambda, 6-3, 6-1, in No. 1 doubles to secure the overall team win.
Jefferson won the top four singles matches, including a victory in the No. 2 matchup from freshman Mark Prettyman, who arrived late because of an academic commitment and experienced back pains throughout his match against Langley’s Kevin Shen. Prettyman, who lost to Shen last week’s Liberty District tournament, nonetheless persevered for a 7-5, 6-4 win. In No. 3 singles, Jefferson’s Wan defeated Abdu-Hambda, 3-6, 6-3,7-5.
“Those were two big wins that we absolutely had to have,” Jefferson Coach John Meyers said. “Mark’s back was killing him, and he’s able to hold on and beat a guy that’s beaten him. . . . Tennis is a funny game.”
In No.4 singles, Jefferson’s Nikil Ramachandran defeated James Schenk, 6-3, 6-1. In No. 5, Langley’s Joe LaFuria beat Jefferson’s Saelig Khuttar, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1. The Saxons also received a win in No. 6 singles, where Chase Lewis defeated Jefferson’s Ian Lin, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.