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Batavia boys tennis still fierce despite changed lineup

Batavia’s Ryan Sterling returns the ball during Friday’s practice with his doubles partner Adam Maris (right).
Batavia’s Ryan Sterling returns the ball during Friday’s practice with his doubles partner Adam Maris (right).

BATAVIA – Batavia brands its student sections as “The Dog Pound” in a nod to the school’s alliterative nickname, Bulldogs.

Apart from the occasional spirited barking of football players, perhaps no athletic team personifies the moniker better than the boys tennis program this season.

Batavia returned each of its top 11 players from 2013, but instead of forging ahead with the status quo, coach Brad Nelson conferred with athletes about some role reversals. The result isn’t particularly different than past seasons. The Bulldogs may have changed positions in the lineup, but they’re equally fierce.

“I think we can all play pretty well together after a couple of matches under our belt,” senior Jeff Lorden said. “So I think it was just figuring out who we were going to play with, and then once we figured that out, we could just start working together.”

Lorden played No. 1 doubles alongside junior Adam Maris last season. The duo helped Batavia to a second straight Upstate Eight Conference River Division team title before losing a state qualifying match to IMSA at a daunting West Aurora Sectional.

Coupled with a handful of other close sectional calls that ultimately produced zero state qualifiers, the result weighed on the shuffling.

So, too, did the conference landscape. Knowing St. Charles North was especially strong in doubles, the Bulldogs moved former top singles player Ryan Sterling alongside Maris, while grouping Lorden with junior Josh Boyle in the second doubles slot.

“You have to be a little strategic about balancing that out a little bit,” Nelson said. “That’s what we looked at going into the year.”

North visits Batavia on May 8 after edging fellow contender St. Charles East, 4-3, last month. The Saints topped the host Bulldogs, 4-3, on Tuesday.

Entering Saturday’s Huntley quad, Batavia’s four doubles pairs are a combined 59-7.

Each of the top three groups – including the No. 3 team of sophomores Andrew Nelson and Emerson Hinzy – have at least 17 wins, helping the Bulldogs to three straight weekend event victories.

While East’s doubles split went a long way toward its dual win, the top two tandems held serve.

Friends off the court, Sterling and Maris hardly doubted that reality. They aren’t cut-ups, but they hardly get particularly down on themselves, either.

“I don’t think I will ever get too tense, even if we were playing in the best, most prestigious tournament in the world,” Maris said. “He always is going to make me laugh, or sometime during the match. It’s easy to play with when you have someone who makes it that easy. And he’s skilled, so it takes a lot of the pressure off.”

Senior Tim Murat, who climbed from second to first singles after Sterling’s change-of-scenery shift, still acknowledges some anxiety.

Batavia drew many of the same teams as last season in the May 24 Waubonsie Valley Sectional. Still, Monday’s 4-3 victory against one of them – traditional Suburban Christian Conference power Marmion – boosted the Bulldogs’ confidence about stacking things up for state.

“It’s a little bit more pressure on us, and it’s more motivation that everyone wants to end their senior year strong,” Murat said. “Losing a decent chunk of our starting lineup [after this season], we want to go out with a bang.”

Murat calls Nelson’s coaching approach “more heavily mental this year” as some athletes blend singles principles with doubles, or vice-versa.

However they line up, the Bulldogs always have one thing in mind, and it speaks to their strategic nature.

“Make sure we’re playing steady from the back,” Murat said, “and then take our opportunities when they’re there.”

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