Hunch: If Chiraag Shetty plays to his usual standard Thursday on Virginia Tech's courts, he'll become the Bay Rivers District's first boys Group AA tennis singles champion since Grafton's Yakov Diskin in 2004-06.
I researched tennisrecruiting.net, a website that reports closely on junior and college tennis. Based on its numbers and my observations, Shetty is a big favorite in the one-day tournament. (Disclaimer: I write occasional stories for tennisrecruiting.net and sometimes vote in its polls.)
TR.net ranks Shetty 484th nationally in the senior class. His 9 a.m. semifinal opponent, Blacksburg's Will Coffey, is 928th. The other semifinal pits Western Albemarle's No. 748 Cam Scot, the 2010 runner-up, against No. 1,462 Scottie Taylor of E.C. Glass.
The 9 a.m. victors will meet at around noon for the championship, so conditioning could become a factor. The champion will need to play at least four sets, barring an opponent's retirement, and potentially six.
Shetty, a skinny, quick fellow with a booming topspin forehand, earned his way to his second consecutive Region I crown, so he should be match-tough. Bolivian exchange student Alfonso De Ugarte, supported by his Culpeper County camp, gave him a serious challenge in last week's championship match, but Shetty pulled away to a 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory.
Coffey figures to have a few boisterous fans Thursday. But if the tr.net numbers hold up, the toughest opponent left for Shetty is Scot, whose Western Albemarle team has been to five consecutive championship matches, winning the first three.
But in a team quarterfinal, Jamestown senior JJ Wilroy defeated Scot in straight sets. Shetty handled Wilroy in relatively routine fashion in the BRD final and Region I semis.
So how did Shetty become such a big favorite? Unlike some ridiculously good players around the state -- 2011 girls singles champ Shannon Hudson of First Colonial and Douglas Freeman High's Princeton-bound Emily Hahn come to mind -- he kept playing VHSL tennis for four years.
The O'Keefe era is over
From 2008-11, the Salem Spartans' Patrick O'Keefe owned this tournament. The Roanoke-area star was never seriously threatened and won all four possible singles championships, losing just eight games in eight sets in the four finals he won.
Five of those eight games were taken in 2008 by Jamestown's Elliot Mee -- now in the Wake Forest marching band -- and two were grabbed in '09 by James Monroe's Caleb Rapkins, who attends William and Mary but doesn't play on the Tribe team.
How dominant was O'Keefe last season? Shetty lost to Wesley Wong of Freedom High in a semifinal, and O'Keefe then shut out Wong 6-0, 6-0 shortly thereafter.
But fortune favors Shetty on Thursday. Wong's school, located in the Loudoun County town of South Riding, moved up to Group AAA -- in fact, Freedom gave eventual champion Deep Run a good match before losing last weekend at Huntington Park.
O'Keefe is gone to Radford University, where he played No. 6 on a nationally ranked team that won the Big South championship to reach the NCAA tournament. Another guy who could have threatened to win the crown if he'd still been in high school is Will Drougas, who won three state doubles titles with O'Keefe.
But Drougas now plays for Case Western Reserve in Ohio. He was good enough to reach the 32-man NCAA Division III singles field, impressive considering there are probably around 1,500 starters in D-III across the country.
So Shetty's path is clear. Five years ago, his brother Adi was the runner-up to Handley's Alex Funkhouser, who went on to start for Old Dominion and Coastal Carolina.
Now it's time for Shetty, who hopes to make the ODU team but is far from certain to do so, to etch his name in the VHSL Record Book -- and if you don't think that means something, go to page 75 and look down the list.
Plawska returns to girls singles
York sophomore Wiktoria Plawska, already a two-time Region I champion, isn't the favorite Thursday, but she should be competitive. She and Shetty likely will be playing on nearby courts.
Plawska's semifinal opponent is Lauren Sledd of Roanoke's Cave Spring High, who has committed to play for Division II Catawba in western North Carolina.
Tennisrecruiting.net lists Plawska at 723rd nationally among sophomores and puts Sledd at 549th among seniors. So a slight edge goes to Sledd, who trained at former Australian Open champion Johan Kriek's academy when it was in Roanoke. (Kriek's wife is a former Virginia Tech player, Daga Mrozek, and their camp now is in Charlotte, N.C.)
The other two players have even better rankings. Sunnie Lampl of Woodgrove High, who is an excellent student -- or she wouldn't have been accepted to MIT -- is 421st among seniors. She faces E.C. Glass' Julie Clark, who is 368th in the 11th-grade group.
Jamestown girls in team competition
The new format meant that Region I teams had to face Region II in the first round, so there no I's left on the boys' side. Jamestown lost to Western Albemarle, and James Monroe fell to Handley.
In girls play, though, Jamestown is back. That's usually almost as reliable as a sunrise, though the Eagles needed to scrap their way to Blacksburg this time. They'll face E.C. Glass at noon Thursday on Tech's courts, and the Eagles appear to be the underdog.
Since Clark will present formidable opposition to Jamestown No. 1 Leah Walter and in doubles against Walter and Abby Hunt, the Eagles will need to show their depth. Many of these Eagles were on a team that lost 5-4 to E.C. Glass in a memorable 2010 semifinal.
Last season, Hidden Valley beat Jamestown 5-1 in a semifinal, then overcame Glass 5-3 for the championship. But Hidden Valley didn't make it back this time. Western Albemarle will face Spotswood in the other semi.