Boys’ tennis makes long-awaited return to playoffs

 Junior Brad Williams smashes the ball over the net during the Panthers’ victory over Mills.

Junior Brad Williams smashes the ball over the net during the Panthers’ victory over Mills.

The boys’ tennis team is much improved this season after a couple of rough years and has clinched a spot in the PAL team tournament after missing the playoffs the last three years. The Panthers finished the regular season at 8-6, in fourth place in the competitive PAL Bay Division, behind traditional powers Menlo-Atherton, Carlmont and Aragon. By sneaking into the PAL tournament, they will play for the PAL’s second slot in the Central Coast Section playoffs.

This year’s team is a good mixture of veteran leadership and young talent. Three of the top four singles players are seniors: Chris Hu, Kevin Taggart and Tyler Vanderley. The No. 1 singles player, however, is junior Cale Goodman, and the top three doubles pairings consist entirely of sophomores, juniors and even a freshman, Connor Sheehy.

“We had some guys stepping up into big roles,” coach Bill Smith said. “The record shows that we’re in playoffs at the moment, and that’s what this team hears as goals. If we make the playoffs, that would be an indication that they’ve overachieved for the season.”

In order to prepare for their matches against some of the top teams in the county, the Panthers practice four days a week (unless they have matches), going over the fundamentals of the game and simulating a real match. During pre-match warmups, the players analyze their opponents and try to get a sense for their strengths and weaknesses.

One of the Panthers’ biggest strengths this year is their depth, which has allowed them to win matches at the lower levels and solidify their standing as one of the better teams in their division.

“From top to bottom, there’s not an extreme difference from No. 1 singles to No. 3 doubles,” Goodman said. “The bottom half of varsity tends to win.”

Along with the team tournament, many of the Panthers are hoping to play in the PAL individual tournament, which takes place April 25-27 at Burlingame. Goodman and the top doubles team of junior Oliver Nix and sophomore Evan Mahaffey are the most likely participants.

The Panthers’ success is even more surprising considering that players at other schools, especially Menlo-Atherton and Carlmont, have been playing tennis for years, while many players at Burlingame only pick up tennis once they get to high school.

“Kids that come to BHS, a lot of the time, don’t know how to play tennis until they join the team,” Nix said. “That’s unheard of at [Menlo-Atherton]. M-A has kids that have been playing for years.”

After the Panthers beat Woodside for the second time on March 30, they are in good shape for the playoffs, with only two regular season matches remaining.

“We’ve exceeded my own expectations,” Vanderley said. “Everyone on the team is dedicated to the sport and levelheaded, and they understand the things they have to do in order to win. To make the playoffs for the first time in my time at BHS would be something great to see. I don’t think there’s anything holding us back, so long as we perform the way that we did in the first half of the season and the way that I know we’re capable of.”

Posted on April 21, 2017 .