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Newcomers give Wildcats tennis a boost
Exchange student Jacobo Licini and transfer student Wooseong Lee add another layer to the boys' tennis team's playoff hopes.
RHHS Wildcats

Richmond Hill boys’ tennis coach Tony Dragon likes to say that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Not many would disagree with that timeless axiom, but when you combine luck with being good to begin with, you can wind up with something special. Dragon is hoping that’s the case with the Wildcats who are in the Sweet 16 of the GHSA state tennis playoffs for the third straight year.

The Wildcats finished second to Camden County in the Region 1-7A tournament. They beat Grayson, 3-0, in the opening round of the state playoffs before losing at Campbell, 3-0, on Tuesday.

Dragon believed the Wildcats were going to have a good season with several returnees from last year’s team but then they got a shot in the arm when some alert guidance counselors sent a couple of newcomers his way.

“I thought we were going to be pretty good,” Dragon said. “We felt like we had a senior heavy team and then we had a couple of kids move in and they gave us a little bit of strength in the lineup.”

Those two newcomers were Italian exchange student Jacobo Licini and sophomore Woosoeng Lee who is making the Wildcats an early beneficiary of the Hyundai HMG Metaplant.

While there’s no doubt Licini and Lee would have eventually found their way to Dragon and the tennis team, the sixth-year coach got an early heads up thanks to the school’s counselors.  

“When we have new students transfer in, the counselors talk to them about their interests and then send them in the right direction,” said Dragon, whose first tennis head coaching job was in 2005 at Benedictine. “If there’s any athletic interest, they alert the coaches. Our counselors do a great job in helping us.”

Licini and Lee are prime examples of how luck can play a hand in a team suddenly getting better.

As an exchange student, Licini wound up at Richmond Hill by luck of the draw and without Hyundai coming to the area Lee would still be in Montgomery, Ala., where his father worked for Hyundai before being transferred here to help in establishing the new plant.

“Exchange students get assigned at random,” Dragon said. “They apply for a region of the United States and then get assigned. It was a pretty good gift and a fortunate event for me.

“Jacobo is pretty good and he’s had a really good season,” Dragon said. “He’s got a really consistent serve and comes up and plays the net really well. He wins a lot of points by being aggressive.”

Lee, younger and less experienced, combines talent and guile to give opponents fits.

“Woosoeng is super active,” Dragon said. “He’s got a lot of tricks in his bag and he kind of confuses his opponents. He’s a good player who is going to get better.”

The Wildcats’ No. 3 singles is junior Cederic Yang who is in his third year on the varsity team. He started playing tennis in the Richmond Hill recreation program while in elementary school.

The No. 1 doubles team is junior Nick Daly and senior Owen Gold while the No. 2 doubles team is seniors Patik Patel and Ahmad Jaber.

“Nick has turned into one of the best doubles players we’ve ever had at Richmond Hill,” Dragon said. “He’s been a starter for three years and he makes his partner right no matter what. He’s just gotten better and better.”

Richmond Hill has a strong history in boys’ tennis and it had a team reach the Final Four in 2008. That team, led by Coach Pat Paruso, had Michael Zhu at No. 1 singles, Chris Noonberg at No. 2 and Jason Trankle at No. 3. The No. 1 doubles team was Nic Balas and Ethan Lane while the No. 2 team was John Rush and Kyle Guither.

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