By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys tennis team has shown immediate signs of progress under new head coach Sam Weiss. After dropping their season opener at Willowbrook, the Bulldogs responded with three straight wins against Bolingbrook, Shepard and Lemont.
"Mr. Weiss has done a great job especially considered he has never officially coached tennis before," RBHS senior William Dowling said. "He is always keeping track of how we are playing individually and changing the lineup to reward players that improve. This encourages us to work hard at practice, especially since he implemented a pyramid system where you can challenge teammates for higher spots."
More importantly, with 10 varsity players and 33 overall in the program, Weiss appears to have numbers he can work with in terms of building a sustainable and hopefully successful program. Of course, part of the game plan will call for patience.
"We want to continue to improve our kids' skills," Weiss said. "About 90 percent of the kids who play tennis at RB start [playing] their freshman year, so we want them to continue practicing during the offseason and participating in developmental camps over the summer."
Dowling is the Bulldogs' No. 1 singles player and also plays some doubles. He's recorded a pair of runner-up finishes at tourneys this spring.
"Will is just a great all-around player who has been playing tennis his whole life," Weiss said. "He puts a lot of spin on the ball and uses technique instead of power to win his matches. He analyzes an opponent's playing style and adapts in order to win."
Freshman Stephen Berger, who also plays golf at RBHS, holds down the second singles spot.
"Stephen has the biggest potential on the team," Weiss said. "He's an incredible young player with a great attitude. He's always joking and smiling, but he's a lethal teddy bear. I say this because he's the shortest kid on the team and looks like he's 10.
"He's just a solid all-around player with really no faults. The only area he needs help with is increasing speed and size."
Senior Neil Styx also competes in singles, while Alex Mercado is a top doubles player.
"Neil is fundamentally sound and particularly effective at net with his aggressive play," Weiss said. "Alex is a very quick and agile player. He prefers to keep the ball in play and also capitalize at the net when opponents make a mistake. Nothing gets past Alex."
A pair of first-year players, junior Dylan Meehan and freshman Owen Leander, have played second doubles together.
"Dylan is a multi-sport athlete with the aggressiveness of a tiger," Weiss said. "Owen is like clockwork. He has great technique that will help him blossom into a very successful player."
James Berger, Rowan Elwart, Rokas Lukosevicius and Nicholas Sacharski comprise the rest of the varsity roster.
"The team has been quite competitive so far this season, tying for second at our first quad meet, a Saturday tournament comprised of four teams, and then tying for second at the next," Dowling said. "Our explosive start this year is largely due to the new freshman talents like Stephen Berger, Owen Leander and Nick Sacharski combined with junior walk-ons Dylan Meehan and Marc Lagler, all of whom went straight to varsity and are getting better every day.
"For me, I think the season is going pretty well," Dowling added. "In previous seasons I always played singles when possible, but Coach Weiss and I thought it would be a good idea for me to try out doubles more so we have more flexibility with the sectional and conference lineups. Owen Leander and I make a solid team, so we decided to take on first doubles at the next two quad meets. With the help of Owen's clutch consistency, we nearly went undefeated, finishing second at both."
RBHS hosts St. Francis on Thursday, May 1. Matches start at 4:30 p.m. After facing the Spartans, the Bulldogs' remaining home matches are against Nazareth Academy (Tuesday, May 7) and St. Edward (Wednesday, May 8), which also begin at 4:30.
"Our kids are improving each day and have great determination and drive," Weiss said. "We have increased our offensive play."
The Bulldogs will compete in the Lyons Township Sectional of the Class 2A state playoffs on Friday, May 17. Since the host Lions and rival Hinsdale Central typically dominate the field in terms of state qualifiers, RBHS should benefit by simply getting more match experience against better competition.
During the offseason, RBHS tennis will host a "Riverside Brookfield Community Tennis Tournament" to raise funds for the program.