The 2020 San Benito High boys tennis team was undefeated when Covid-19 shut down its season. Two years later, the Haybalers have proven that season was no fluke.
If San Benito (10-0 overall, 8-0 PCAL Mission Division) beats Pacific Grove on April 7, it will put the team in a great position to run the table for the league championship. Should San Benito win the Mission, it would play the second-place team from the upper Gabilan Division for a berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs.
“The boys are getting the recognition they deserve and they’ve earned it,” Balers coach Rick Espino said.
San Benito has two sets of brothers on the team, at No. 1 and 2 singles and No. 1 doubles. Senior Hugh Nguyen plays the top spot and brother Andy, a junior, the No. 2 position. Hugh has been at the top spot since his sophomore year, but Espino noted there isn’t a big difference between him and the top doubles team of senior Quinton Dolan and sophomore Callum Dolan, a testament to the quality of talent on the squad.
While the Nos. 2-6 players on the ladder are not separated by much, Hugh Nguyen has the edge over everyone else because he possesses a versatile skill set.
“He’s one of the best singles players we’ve had in the five or six years I’ve been coaching the boys team,” Espino said. “He’s strong, fast and attacks well. He plays an all-around good game from serves to volleys to speed.”
Andy Nguyen gets it done differently compared to his brother. Espino describes the younger Nguyen as an unorthodox player because of the way he holds and grips his racket, especially on the backhand side. Despite that, Nguyen can hit effective slice, drop and topspin shots.
“Andy is different but he makes it work,” Espino said.
Senior captain Ben Corlis plays the No. 3 singles spot and is a four-year varsity player. Corlis wins by getting everything back—in tennis lingo he is referred to as a pusher or wall—which often frustrates opponents.
“Ben is the consummate backboard,” Espino said. “He just outlasts players and waits you out. He’ll lob it, hit short balls, get to the net and instead of hitting a hard volley he’ll get it back and wait for you to make an error.”
Freshman Vincent Clark mans the No. 4 spot but sometimes plays no. 2 doubles because other teams don’t have enough players to field a full lineup. Espino said Clark and Andy Nguyen will challenge for the No. 1 singles position next year.
“Vincent is tall and plays out of Ridgemark, so he’s learned some, but now we’re working with him on the proper way to hit things and improving his footwork,” Espino said. “His serve and groundstrokes have gotten better, and he’s been a great asset to the team.”
The Dolan brothers have also been instrumental to the team’s success because they’ve been a virtual lock to win the No. 1 doubles match. Quinton played No. 4 singles the previous couple of years, but with the opportunity to play doubles with his brother this season, it was a no-brainer.
“Quinton and Callum have been playing together for years, it shows and that’s what puts us over the top,” Espino said. “They’re probably the top doubles team in my time here. I think Quinton really stepped up his game because his brother pushed him. Callum might not have the greatest technique, but he gets the ball back and is a good player. He’s like Ben and pushes everything back. He’s really made his brother step up as well.”
Jordan Patino and Baron Recht play No. 2 doubles and Juan Leon and Shane Wilbur the No. 3 spot. Patino is a four-year player and Espino said he’s put it all together this season.
“This year Jordan has improved so much and is playing good tennis,” Espino said. “As a team, the boys are excited about the position they’re in and so long as they keep showing up and have a good attitude, we can do this and go undefeated in league.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org