Changes are all around for Pasadena-area boys' tennis

There’s varying expectations heading into the 2013 high school boys’ tennis season.

Teams like La Salle and Marshall Fundamental are still sorting through their roster. Maranatha essentially has a new-look team with a first-year coach and a fraction of its players from last season gone.

Pasadena’s been difficult to predict, considering its early-season thumping at the hands of Arcadia. Then there’s powerhouse San Marino, plugging in a few new pieces and expecting to continue its winning way.

Dropping from Division I to II did little to upset San Marino second-year Coach Melwin Pereira.

The Titans lost to University in the CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinals last season, impeding their chance at the crown after having won the Rio Hondo League title.

If San Marino intends to nab the divisional championship, it will likely see a challenger in Palm Desert. But that’s fine by Pereira.

“I’m thrilled,” he said. “As long as University is not around happy, I’m happy. It’s the same for all the other coaches [whose programs are no longer in Division I]. University, they’re full-stacked. So, I’m expecting to do better because I don’t have University to stop me.”

Back at another run are 10 players from last season, including No. 1 singles player James Wade, who’s received a scholarship offer from UC Davis.

“He’s very disciplined, dedicated and he has a good work ethic,” Pereira said. “He’s an aggressive baseliner, and he’s working on improving his serve. He hits heavy balls, top spit. And he’s quick on his feet.”

Ryan Chang and Danny Gealer will also be in the mix as singles players.

Gealer was the No. 2 singles player last year and could very well return to the same spot this season. Like Wade, Gealer is also an aggressive baseliner and steady. Through his USTA matches, he’s gotten plenty of experience and has put together a solid all-around game.

Chang, a freshman, also brings with him plenty of USTA experience. Pereira refers to him as more of a “counter-puncher, and a little bit of an aggressive baseliner who gets a lot of balls back.”

With Nicholas Splichal, Robert Carter, and Derek Chen, Pereira believes he has plenty of room to be flexible with lineups.

There’s some uncertainty, however, with the doubles teams. So far, Carter and Chen (Carter was part of the No. 1 doubles team last year with Timothy Duong) could emerge as a potential duo. In an early season match against Loyola, Carter and Chen swept all three of their matches in a 12-6 win.

The combination is particularly appealing because Chen, a left-hander, complements the right-handed Carter.

“They’re jelling together,” Pereira said. “It’s coming along, getting better. The season is still young. We’ve only had one match. I’m hoping by the time CIF comes around, they will know each other better and know each other’s strength and weaknesses.”

As a team, he added, “We’re just going to go out and try our best and play as a team and see what happens.”

Pasadena Poly will see a new figure at the helm after 45 years, following coach Howie Farer's retirement.

Sheryl Bon-Bakalov takes over the Panthers, inheriting seven of 12 players from last season.

They’ll be led by Henry La Soya at No. 1 singles. He split time between one and two last year. Matthew Johnson, who previously played at No. 1 doubles, switches over to No. 2 singles. And the No. 1 doubles team of Sachin Puri and Andrew Trojan is expected to anchor that side.

Being new to the program, Bon-Bakalov said it’s too early to determine where Poly expects to get the bulk of its point, other than saying it’ll depend from match to match.

La Soya is small in stature, but is arguably “the most powerful player we have,” Bon-Bakalov said.

“People are surprised with how well he plays and how hard he hits,” she said. “He looks harmless, but he’s powerful.”

A.J. Singh and Hunter Whitaker-Morrow are designated captains, along with fellow senior Ryan Kidman, another doubles player.

Bon-Bakalov said she expects her program to do well in the Prep League, showing gradual improvement each match.

“Just go out there and play with a lot of character and a lot of heart and play with a no-quit attitude,” she said.

It isn’t quite a complete overhaul, but Maranatha, under first-year coach Arthur Hsieh, will certainly look different this season without five or six of its key players from last season.

The Minutemen graduated their No. 1 singles player (Randall Hsieh, the coach’s son) of the past three years, to be replaced by sophomore Daniel Hsieh (Randall’s younger brother).

Factor in the loss of their No. 3 singles player, along with their top doubles team (Derek Lee, Leo Liang), which won the Olympic League title last year, and Maranatha is sure to feel the lack of experience on a squad that will feature only four upperclassmen.

“We have a young team,” Arthur Hsieh said. “We’re not sure exactly [what we have]. We’re still trying to figure it out.”

Even with the uncertainty of the lineups, Hsieh said he expected his program to “compete pretty good,” despite “losing some of our big guns.” His son, Randall, was in the league finals the last three years, which leaves a gaping hole for a program.

“Whenever he stepped onto the court,” Arthur Hsieh said, “I knew I could count on him ... So that was a nice cushion to have.”

Now, points will have to come from the doubles side, namely with seniors Wesley Oliver and Noah Schlenker teaming up. They’ll also work in San Marino junior transfer Chris Chun, who played on the junior varsity team last season. He could see time at doubles. And there’s also a junior, Colin Dillingham, who could play either the singles or doubles slots, and sophomore Stephane Splichal, whose play might call for him to step up to No. 2 singles.

“Right now, as I see it, if we’re playing on all cylinders and everyone’s playing their best, I think on any given day we might be able to get 11 [points],” Arthur Hsieh said. “If we’re not totally on, that’s 10 or 9 [points]. So our margins are very thin this year. We could still pull it out, but the team’s going to have to come together because we don’t have the same margin and firepower as last year. So we’ll see.

“We’re trying to see if we could summon it up and get each other going, to get everyone to perform a little bit better. If everyone could do a little, we could be contention this year.”

The Bulldogs finished in last place in the Pacific League last season, but coach Derek Jones said he feels reason to be encouraged this year.

To start off the season, Pasadena beat La Salle (12-6) and Marshall Fundamental twice. The Bulldogs, however, came across road blocks in formidable Arcadia (15-3 loss) and Pasadena Poly (14-4). Still, Jones was pleased with the effort, as the program looks to integrate some junior varsity players after losing a couple seniors.

“[They’re] eager to play and learn the ropes pretty quickly,” Jones said, adding that the tennis experience of some of his sophomore and freshmen players should go a long way.

While his doubles team should be competitive, Jones said he expects his singles players to help lead the charge. Charbel El Khouri, in particular, brings with him two years experience and is primed to continue his ascension this year.

Plenty is expected, too, from singles players Samuel Hayek, a sophomore, and Oliver Collings, a freshman. They should help the point production while the Bulldogs usher in a new cast of doubles players into the lineup.

The Tigers’ roster is so large (22 players) that coach Jim Asher split the group in two, with an A-team and B-team.

There’s plenty to be decided, particularly in singles. His top player, Scott Richards, made a decision to play doubles this season. That could change in the second half of his senior campaign, but Asher’s expecting Richards to bolster doubles, where South Pasadena expects to get most of it points.

“Scott is really an exceptionally good tennis player,” Asher said. “He’s posted some good scores against some of the best players [last season] and now he wants to focus on doubles. And he’ll be playing the best tennis of his life this year as he exits high school.”

The doubles teams this year will feature a senior and an underclassman, such as with Shyam Senthilkumar and Casey Corvino. The combination of Krishna Mocherla and Sagar Raju is another senior-freshman tandem. And David Liu and Jason Wang round out the third doubles team.

Kartik Raju, a sophomore, is slated to be the team’s No. 2 singles player. The rest remains undecided on that front.

The team isn’t star-studded, Asher said, but instead a collection of “kids that have a lot of heart,” with depth across the lineup.

If the team hopes to improve on its fourth-place finish in the Rio Hondo League, Asher said he expects a bumpy road with San Marino, La Canada, and Temple City, but accepts the challenge nonetheless.

“It’d be great to get to CIF, see how we do there,” Asher said. “Continue improving, really, is the goal.”

Half-jokingly, Marshall Fundamental Coach Robert Moraga says to check back with him in April regarding his team’s progress.

This early in the season, he said, the Eagles are still trying to see what they have with a relatively inexperienced roster in place.

“Right now, everything is coming together great,” the second-year coach said. “We’re just trying to get everyone to figure out where people are going to go.

“We have lot of scrimmage games to go. Then league games come in April. Check with me then.”

The team returns two seniors and a sophomore in Caolan John, a singles player. As it stands, John is slated to be the No. 1 singles player, based on his “coordination and team leadership,” Moraga said.

There’s even more to be decided with the Eagles’ doubles team. A few players came back, Moraga said, but in trying to decide singles players, “we really don’t know.”

Marshall Fundamental recorded only one win last season. Moraga said, of course, that he’d like to win more matches this season and he expects his team to be more organized as the season progresses.

The Lancers will look for leadership and guidance under their four-year starter and captain, Rob Hulbert, their No. 1 singles player and CIF qualifier in doubles last year.

Ezane Berhane looks to continue his ascension in his fourth season with the program. Coach Tim Pawley referred to his No. 2 singles player as the most improved over the last year, winning three times in each of La Salle’s first two matches to open the season.

Even with that experience up top, the Lancers will field their youngest team under Pawley’s 11 years with the program, carrying five freshmen players.

Out of that group, Pawley has been pleased with underclassmen duo of Riley Wallis and Ryan Monninger, which he describes as “extremely aggressive and intense athletes.”

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