Balers’ present, future looks bright

The Balers' Hugh Nguyen is one of three freshmen in the starting singles lineup. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The 2018 season was a breakthrough for Adrian Acevedo, who won a couple of matches in the league tournament and played the best tennis of his career. Now in his senior season, the San Benito High ace has a goal to play at a higher level and lead the Haybalers to a Pacific Coast League Mission Division championship.

“I feel like I’m playing pretty well,” he said. “Last year I won three matches (in the league tournament), and that gave me a lot of confidence to go above what I thought I could do.”

The Balers are hoping for a 180-degree turnaround from last year, and so far things are shaking out nicely for coach Rick Espino. San Benito’s No. 2, 3 and 4 singles players are all freshmen, a huge boost to a program that struggles to find talented newcomers who can make an immediate impact. Hugh Nguyen, Ben Corlis and Quinton Dolan have all played well as freshmen given their lack of experience.

“They get nervous sometimes because they’re young and new to competition, but they’re coming along nicely,” Espino said. “They’re willing to work and as long as they stick with it, they have bright futures in this sport. I maneuvered them to singles to get them ready for  next year and beyond.”

Nguyen has a strong stroke off both wings, while Corlis is referred to in high school tennis circles as a wall, a player who doesn’t hit with a lot of power but gets everything back and is tremendously consistent. Corlis started off 4-0 in Mission Division play, rarely makes mistakes and plays mentally tough. Corlis plays patient and steady, a great characteristic to have in all sports, especially tennis.

“He’s involved in the longest rallies ever,” Espino said. “He plays conservative because he’s inexperienced. My goal is to teach Ben some aggression and how to hit properly. But he’s done well and has gone into a couple of (super) tiebreakers and pulled out the win.”

Dolan is another up-and-comer who lacks experience but has potential. Dolan has a solid forehand and backhand to go along with a strong slice backhand.

“He lacks the footwork to consistently hit at a high level, but he’ll get there,” Espino said. “What I like about Quinn is he’s not afraid to go to the net.”

The Balers’ doubles teams are expected to win a lot of matches, as the No. 1 squad of seniors Adrian Garcia and Daniel Bernal—the team’s Nos. 2 and 3 singles players from last year—have teamed up to present a formidable duo. Espino put Bernal and Garcia together to get them plenty of match experience in preparation to make a deep run in the Pacific Coast League Tournament.

“Adrian is a good net player and both he and Daniel are moving on the court like I’ve never seen before,” Espino said. “I’m looking for them to do some very good things this season. I have high hopes for them to do well in the tournament.”

Sophomore Aven Melching and junior Robert Lomax are returning players and starting to hit their stride as the No. 2 doubles team, while the No. 3 doubles team consists of sophomore Matt Nokyos and a rotating mix of players including freshman Jordan Patino and sophomores Moses Sanchez and Matt Munoz. The latter three players are newcomers to the sport, but they all came to the team’s winter session and picked up the game.

“They rotate in and out of challenge matches each week and go back and forth,” Espino said. “These guys are not afraid to go after the ball, and right now they might not look great (due to their lack of experience), but they’re aggressive and that’s all you can ask for.”

Nokyos and Melching are returning players, while Moses and Jordan are newcomers after playing different sports last season. Lomax has returned after a one-year absence from the sport, having played on the team in his freshman year only to skip last season.

“I’m glad to have him back because he’s pretty consistent,” Espino said. “He hits the ball different than most people and he doesn’t give up. Just when you think the point is dead or the ball is way out of his reach, he gets it back and makes you wonder how he did that. … I’m pretty happy with the team this year. Even if we don’t win many matches, I’m getting these younger kids ready for next year. They’re going to do well whatever their record is if they stay committed.”

Acevedo has made a commitment to improve in his time at San Benito. Acevedo spent the off-season playing twice a week at Dunne Park with Bernal, who introduced him to the sport. Acevedo has had to deal with an assortment of injuries in his senior year, first with a concussion in December followed by some shoulder soreness that started affecting his serves last week.

“It feels way better than it did before,” he said. “It just came out of nowhere and I’m hoping I can stay healthy. Right now I’m doing better on my serves and strokes, and I just have to stay calm and chill this year or I will hit all the balls out.”

Acevedo has developed a stronger mental resolve in 2019, one that he hopes will help spring him to his best season ever. Acevedo has high expectations for himself after he took his lumps at the No. 1 spot a year ago.

“Last year my issue was I couldn’t stay calm and I’d get frustrated and hit a lot of balls out,” he said. “I’ve improved mentally by practicing everyday with friends and listening to coach to get my setup right, which will put me in the right position to hit everything in.”

When Acevedo is not on the tennis court, you’ll most likely find him working on cars. Acevedo takes the auto shop class at San Benito High, which offers students a great opportunity to ply their trade for a future career in the automotive industry. Acevedo has done tire rotations, oil changes and systems diagnostics; however, his biggest project has come in the form of removing an engine, breaking them apart and putting them back together.

Acevedo knows this will be the final time he plays organized tennis, so he’s hoping to go out with a bang.

“My goal is to try to make it to CCS and just put tennis out there knowing it’s a great sport,” he said.

It’s no coincidence Nguyen is playing one of the team’s top positions at such an early age. Nguyen first started playing tennis when he was 4 years old. His dad, Hieu, taught Hugh and his younger brother Andy the game. While Hugh and Andy are pretty equal, they still have a long way to go to catch up to their dad.

“He’s way better than me,” Hugh said. “He’s very skilled and still a strong player. When he was in his 30s and 40s, he played at Ridgemark and beat everyone there. Hopefully I can beat him some day—that’s when I’ll know I’ll be good.”

Before the season started, Nguyen didn’t think he’d end up playing No. 2 singles; however, once he started beating players ahead of him in challenge matches he earned his way to that position. While admittedly nervous at the beginning of the season in matches, Nguyen is getting comfortable with each match. A consistent player, Nguyen would like to add more power to his game, which would enhance his game and take him to another level.

Like most freshmen, Nguyen was a bit wide-eyed when he first stepped onto the San Benito High campus. He attended middle school at Mayes, and yet the transition to high school has been a rather smooth one. Nguyen won’t put a limit on himself, so if he happens to challenge Acevedo, the two will probably have a well-played and competitive match.

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