With over 75 athletes hoping to gain a place on the RHHS tennis team, the Wildcats recently opened their best and toughest schedule yet.
Early season Region wins over St. Vincent’s and Benedictine gave both boys and girls an early advantage as they aim toward returning to the state playoffs. Top finishes in both the Jekyll Jam and the Coastal Empire Classic and the Georgia Sports Ranking of #4 for the boys and #12 for the girls served further notice that the teams will be a force in future playoffs.
Senior Michael Zhu, fresh off a successful wrestling season, is holding the number one singles position for the boys. His baseline game along with power serving gives a sure point to the team. Jason Trankle, Chris Noonburg, Ted Noonburg, Huy Phan, Charles Zhu, Minh Phan and Tom Capocasale are all hoping to fill the additional singles slots. With only the number two and three slots available, these seven kids will also vie for action time in the doubles category. Ethan Lane and Nic Balas are currently seeing lots of playing time at doubles and are battling John Rush and Kyle Guither to hold their places. The boys have had success using several different lineups against Screven County, Country Day, Brantley County, Jenkins and Southeast Bulloch. After a brief spring break, the team is looking forward to Region matches against Hepzibah and Burke County.
Last year’s team fell one game short of the Final Four and the team lost only one starter. This year’s team will follow the leadership of Senior’s Michael Zhu, Huy Phan and John Rush. The boys began the season with a 5-0 win over SE Bulloch. They struggled but managed a victory over a surprisingly strong Benedictine group. Michael Zhu was the standout in the BC match. Zhu had just return from State competition in high school wrestling but still managed to take his opponent out in straight sets.
The girls team is composed of Emily Stephens, Fiona Baer, Sofia Donleavy and Cristina Rodriguez looking to fill the singles fare. Coach Pat Paruso said Stephens has used her precision placement and patience to defeat many opponents in early rounds. She had key wins against SE Bulloch and St. Vincent’s - both come from behind wins. Likewise, Fiona Baer posted a remarkable win against SE Bulloch. She was losing a pro-set 8, 6-0, when she got serious about winning. To her opponent’s dismay, she ran off eight straight games to give RHHS girls the first win of the season. The doubles teams are still looking for a steady line-up but Paruso said aspirations are high that Laura Trivitayakum, Emily Li, Nicole Dupasquier are in the running.
The girls team opened the season with a 5-0 win over Southeast Bulloch and followed it with a crucial 3-0 Region win over a stubborn St. Vincent's squad.
"The Wildcats showed a team effort in both wins and had to post several come-from-behind wins to take the match," Paruso said. "Sofia Donleavy showed maturity in both her wins and was involved in two tie-breakers that went her way. She played flawlessly from the baseline and ran down balls that should have been clear passes. The entire team maintained there posture and confidence through several close matches.
"The season is still young and we are still maturing," Paruso said. "So far the kids have played well, but they know they need to continue improving to make the Final Four. That’s our goal right now."