Senior Managing Editor
The last time Samo’s boys’ tennis team made it to CIF finals, it was 1966. Lyndon B. Johnson had just committed a new wave of troops to Vietnam. The Beatles released “Paperback Writer.” It had not yet occurred to Berkeley Blatz to tell his fellow teammates that music and movies were “too recent” for him.
This year, boys’ tennis broke the 45-year streak on June 1 when they walked onto the courts to battle Palm Desert for the CIF championship. Despite a narrow 10-8 loss that day – a loss that cost them the CIF ring – the team expressed satisfaction with the hard-fought season that brought them to the finals after so many decades of waiting.
The players knew from the beginning that Palm Desert was “probably the favorite,” according to senior and number one doubles player Alex Baettig. Coach Wilston Poon said he warned the players early on that facing Palm Desert would be “tough,” and Palm Desert was seeded number one in their division, whereas Samo was seeded number three.
Even with this understanding, the team – who had moved easily through earlier rungs of CIF, defeating Foothills High School 12-6 in the quarterfinals and trouncing Arcadia 15-3 in the semifinals – weren’t conditioned to battle a team as strong as Palm Desert.
“Their top two teams were way stronger than any team we’d played that year,” junior and number two doubles player Peter Harding said.
Still, the 10-8 loss was extremely close. Team members expressed little doubt that they could have won, had the winds of chance blown slightly stronger in their favor.
“It came down to two matches … And they were both close matches. [Senior singles player] Connor Treacy had match point with one of them, and fell just a little short. One of my doubles teams was right there with the other one, and they just fell a little short too. There’s nothing you can do about it – it’s just the way the match went,” Poon said.
At its heart, Baettig said, the contest was “our singles skill versus their doubles expertise.” With the majority of its most experienced players concentrated in singles, Samo has dedicated much of its season to strengthening doubles play. However, according to Poon, Palm Desert’s doubles teams were “just amazing,” and the intense competition proved insurmountable for Samo’s young doubles teams.
Treacy attributed some of the losses to a lack of “match experience,” particularly on the part of the team’s newer players. As Baettig pointed out, the Claremont Club – where the matches were played – “was a big, open environment, with all the division finals there and hundreds of people watching each match.” In this high-energy, high-pressure environment, Baettig said, “A lot of us were nervous.”
The team is now looking ahead to next year, when they will have to recover from the loss of their graduating seniors – including Baettig, Treacy and singles player Conrad McKinnon, all of who have been key players and leaders on the team this season.
“I think that, contrary to what a lot of people think, we can actually be really good again,” Harding said. “I think the goal is to get back to where we were this year. It was a big accomplishment, and we definitely have the ability to do it again as long as we put in the time.”
Poon, too, is confident in the team’s ability to keep up its momentum. “I see us going to the finals again,” he said of next year’s team.
To fill the leadership roles vacated by graduating seniors, several players suggested that the team will look to junior Cristobal Rivera, who has made his mark this year as one of the team’s strongest singles players.
“[Rivera] is definitely our strongest returning player, so I think that we’re definitely looking for him to lead us,” Harding said.