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Boys’ tennis team wraps up third consecutive MCAL title

The boys’ tennis team’s historic dominance of the MCAL realm has come to a peak once again over the last three years.

On April 28, the team captured the MCAL playoff championship with a 7-2 win over Tamalpais. Despite winning the playoff title the past two years, this was the first year that the boys’ team won the title outright, taking both the regular season and playoff championships.

According to first year head coach Craig Flax, this year’s team is the best he has seen in recent history.

Senior Thor Klein was able to experience the past three MCAL runs. Klein also said that this team has been the best of the last three years.

“Last year we had one senior in the starting lineup, so we didn’t lose many people and everyone had a year to get better,” Klein said of the transition from the team last year to this year.

Senior Thor Klein follows through on a swing in the MCAL semifinals against Branson.
Senior Thor Klein follows through on a swing in the MCAL semifinals against Branson.

The flight of the tennis team hit some turbulence when their head coach was fired after an incident in a regular season match against Tam. Prior to the incident, tensions had been building between players and parents alike with the head coach.

In came Craig Flax and Dean Kristy to coach, two members of the Redwood community and the latter the father of varsity player Jake Kristy.

“I found the [coaching] inconsistencies to be totally fine,” said junior co-captain Jake Kristy. “As long as I was playing everyday and getting better with the other players on my team, it felt fine. After having my dad join the team I felt even more prepared because he brought a lot of coaching experience.”

However, there was a gap between coaches.

The team played a match against San Rafael without a coach, and senior captain Zach Babikian lost his singles match when he was called on an MCAL rule stating that there should be no electronic use by players in the course of an athletic event after using his phone mid-match. This loss came in the deciding match, handing Redwood a rare tennis loss against San Rafael.

Babikian has gone through more coaching changes than the younger members of the team.

“It was pretty hard going through all the coaching changes throughout my four years,” Babikian said. “The hardest part was saying goodbye to my freshman coach. The team handled all of the coaching changes well and overcame the challenges of having a brand new coach by winning MCALs each of the last four years.”

Senior Zach Babikian peers over the net during the team's playoff matchup against Branson.
Senior Zach Babikian peers over the net during the team’s playoff matchup against Branson.

Flax added that the consistency of the team’s success is highly due to their deep roster.

“Even though other teams usually have three to six good players, Redwood typically has 12 to 15,” Flax said.

The team’s depth plays a key role in their success, according to Klein, because the availability of all 12 players allows them to control matchups towards the lower end of the lineup.

Despite the team’s separation from the rest of the competition in the regular season, there always remains room for a change in the playoffs, according to Flax.

“What often happens is that a team who is not expected to win will shuffle their lineup, but I think that this team is strong enough to withstand any kind of jockeying that other teams do,” he said.

Sophomore Jack Bulger said that there were changes to the teams’ lineups, especially in the their semifinal matchup with Branson.

“Branson’s number two singles player is Tommy Yates and he played number one doubles instead to see if they could squeak out a win, because he lost in number two singles last time to [sophomore] Devon [Whelpley],” Bulger said.

Bulger added that the Redwood team applied a similar strategy of altering their lineup in the playoffs last year. Bulger and Whelpley switched to doubles to try to pick up an extra win against Tamalpais, who they lost to in the regular season twice.

Another cornerstone of this year’s team is a talented group of sophomores. The team’s top two singles players, Bulger and Whelpley, are both sophomores, but this has not led to an imbalance in leadership, according to Klein.

“They don’t think that they’re better than everyone else even though they are,” Klein said.

The number of seniors lost this year will increase from last year as seven senior players will depart. However, it seems that the young core of players will make it able to maintain its level of success.

“We are losing some really good seniors, so it remains to be seen if the younger guys are going to improve and step in, but if history is a lesson, then they will,” Flax said.

Klein said that he believes the team has the potential to continue their run of MCAL dominance in the future.

“The core of our team is young, we have good sophomores and juniors and, from what I understand, we have a good freshman class coming in, so the future is definitely bright, even though we are losing a lot [of seniors],” Klein said.


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Jason Fieber, Author