New coach and no-cut policy raise prospects for tennis team

Catherine Conrow

The tennis ball spirals over the net towards the far end of the court, where junior Mitchel Heckmann stands poised and prepared to meet the ball with perfect precision and speed.  The ball collides with Heckmann’s racket, and it is sent flying back to the other side of the court.

This year, Heckmann will be leading the boys’ tennis team as the top singles player, according to Craig Flax, the new assistant coach.

With new coaches and the introduction of a no-cut policy, this year’s boys’ varsity tennis team is looking to build upon last year’s success.

Junior Mitchel Heckmann hits the ball to a teammate during practice.
Junior Mitchel Heckmann hits the ball to a teammate during practice.

The Giants started out strong with victories early in the season with a 10-0 record and defeats over their biggest competitors, Branson and Tam.

Other players that will impact the team’s success are captain Seiji Bellavigna, senior Nelson Oewel, junior Bennett Canady, and sophomore Adrien Blanadet, according to Flax.

“Success this season will really depend on the development of our doubles players. That’s what [hurt us the most] last year- we got swept in doubles,” Bellavigna said.  “Our singles players are all really talented.”

Aside from the duo of Bellavigna and Hamilton Oh, all of the other doubles teams are new.

This season, the team will have to deal with the loss of last year’s top players, junior Nic and sophomore Paul Barretto.

“This year, experienced players will have to play a bigger role,” Bellavigna said.

The team had originally won last year’s MCAL pennant with a 8-1 victory over Tam in the finals, but was forced to default the title due to a player failing to meet MCAL academic requirements.

The player had continued to play despite not meeting the requirement, which created an inaccuracy in player rankings and led to the reversal of all of the player’s match wins.

Despite this, the team moved onto the  North Coast Section, where they fell 2-3 in the second round to the number one seed, Dougherty Valley.

First year head coach and Redwood graduate Annika Viragh said that she hopes to change the perception of the boys’ tennis team following last year’s defaulted title and bring a renewed sense of teamwork and sportsmanship.

“I think that they were a little lacking on [teamwork and sportsmanship], so that’s one major change that I am bringing.  Not only do I want to be the best team, but I want to have the best attitude, the best sportsmanship,” Viragh said.

Viragh said that she also hopes to teach the team better tennis etiquette, as well as inspire the players to become closer and more supporting teammates.

“I want to turn people’s idea of Redwood around because I know that we are not everyone’s favorite.  Especially because of what happened last year, I want to show everyone what a great group of boys this is.”

This year, Viragh made the decision to establish a no-cuts policy.

Viragh said that even though the 27 player team is larger due to the no-cut policy, practice is still able to run smoothly through the use of staggered practices, where practice starts at different times for different players.

“You can do so much [in tennis] and incorporate everybody. Everyone has something to contribute, even the lower players,” Viragh said.

According to Viragh, the team will rely on its depth to be successful in the upcoming season.

“Everyone is contributing because we have a solid team with strong players at each position,” Viragh said. “The returning players from last year are really solid and we have a lot of people that were previously cut, like our number three doubles Danny [Geitheim] and Matt [Berry].”

Senior Andrew Gutierrez was cut from the team previously, but because of the new no-cut policy, he is playing on the team this season.

“Obviously I’m not the greatest [player],” Gutierrez said. “But everyone has a certain thing to bring to the table, whether it’s sportsmanship or a different way of hitting. Everyone contributes to the team, even if you are not playing. We all can learn something from each other.”