Hollister’s Albert Teliha returns a shot at a recent tennis match. Photo: Chris Mora
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Hollister boys tennis Coach Rick Espino has his program rolling with both high-end talent and overall numbers and that will keep the Balers in the competitive top side of the Pacific Coast Athletic League, Mission Division. 

Leadership at the top of the singles ladder comes from Shane Wilbur and Baron Recht. That will be paired with depth on the overall roster, as all 10 players active in a dual meet contribute equally to the team score. 

Espino directed his Balers to the league title in 2022 and a third-place finish last season. Hollister, with a young crew featuring just two seniors among 11 players, will be near the top again in 2024. Gonzales is the favorite, with Oakwood and Alisal bunched right behind with Hollister. A step back are Palma and Rancho San Juan.

Some schools, such as Everett Alvarez, whose Eagles visited the Balers in a non-league match on March 19, do not have a full 10-man roster. That leads to defaults. In team tennis, every match counts equally. 

Baron Recht is one of the leaders of the 2024 Hollister High boys tennis team. Photo: Chris Mora

One looks to get the majority of seven points from four singles duels and three doubles matches. In addition to having a full collection of players, one must be strong throughout from top to bottom. Thus, a strong high-end will only lead to success if the remainder of the team is doing well.

Both Wilbur and Recht are in their third year with the program. That experience is the hallmark of this year’s team, yet the other nine players are equally important to team success.

“Shane Wilbur is our No. 1,” Espino said. “He’s a lefty and he’s got a very good serve. He’s fast and experienced. His speed will help him out. Baron is another lefty. He’s improved a lot over last year. He’s more of a backboard; he gets the ball back.”

Miles Gamble is a solid contributor, usually at No. 3 singles. Bouncing from the fourth spot up to No. 3 at times will be Rizlin Joseph (RJ) Marin.

“I have high hopes for RJ,” Espino said. “He is a former badminton player and brings those skills over to the tennis court, where they should transfer.”

The remainder of the squad includes Albert Teliha, Jack Sarringhaus, Andrew Hubbard, Noah Swanton, Jovan Martin, Andrew Atkins and Aaron Rodriguez.

“Last year, Gonzales was second,” Espino said. “They have a large crew of experienced seniors this year. Four really good singles players. Oakwood won last year. Don’t know much about them this year. We can hold our own against all the others except Gonzales.

Hollister High’s Miles Gamble returns a shot at a recent tennis match. Photo: Chris Mora

“You never know in league. Anything can happen.”

Hollister dropped two early non-league matches with Gonzales, but the experience was valuable. 

Alvarez visited next, but with a short squad of only four players, there would not be seven matches. An easy forfeit win perhaps, but Espino worked with his counterparts to turn it into a great scrimmage to give more of his players action. Instead of having six players sitting all day, he rotated his squad members in for single sets against the Alvarez players. 

Additionally, since Alvarez brought two girls that help run their team, Espino got two Baler girls tennis players to have matches against them. Clearly, the goals are learning and enjoying tennis, in addition to being competitive.

“My goal for the majority is to teach them skills to compete and stay in the game,” Espino said. “Coach Ed Cecena (Hollister girls tennis coach) and I are always doing drills and instruction to help beginners.”

Some players are more advanced and the coaches help those players. 

In general, Espino and his counterparts are also focused on building and growing the sport. Covid-19 shut things down and some schools are just now getting teams back toward full strength. Alvarez could not field a team at all last season. This year, they have six players, though two could not make the trip to Hollister.

League play begins and matches come fast, with Rancho San Juan, Oakwood and Alisal on the immediate horizon. The PCAL Mission Tournament will be on April 23-24.

Hollister will again be among the top few teams in the league. All four singles players are juniors. Four of the six doubles players are underclassmen, as is Rodriguez. With this young crew and leadership from coaches Espino and Cecena, Baler tennis has a solid foundation for current and future success.

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