Last year the young Great Oak High School tennis team started seven sophomores and finished third in the Southwestern League. Great Oak had some growing to do and one year has made all the difference. Players up and down the lineup are bigger, better, and more confident. Great Oak (15-1, 6-0) finds itself atop the Southwestern League standings with four matches to go.
This growth has created an increased depth that has been unmatched in league this year. “Every single person on varsity has been playing and practicing off season. We are committed and continue to grow. At least half of our players play open USTA tournaments,” says Nakhil Nagpal, an open tennis ranked junior with a 34-7 record this year playing singles and doubles. “The team this year is so deep that coach can mix up the line-up to match the strength of our opponents.”
Josh Robbins (45-3) and Kyle Le (35-6), both open ranked players, returned in singles for the Wolfpack. Oftentimes, depending on the opponent, one of the singles players will play with doubles specialist Chad Skelton (40-7), and freshman Joseph Balleweg will move to singles.
Balleweg (31-17) has stepped up to the challenge: “The league is deep. I am learning a lot. It is great to have the opportunity to play singles on such a deep team. We are one of the best leagues so I get to play against all of the top players.”
The Southwestern League is indeed one of the strongest in Southern California. Vista Murrieta has strong singles play from Michael White and Christian Francisco. Three-time defending champion Temecula Valley does well in doubles, but the depth of Great Oak has ensured wins over both opponents (14-4 vs Vista, 12-6 vs TVHS), with one round to go. TVHS and VMHS have split wins against each other this season. In the first game of the second round, Great oak beat Vista Murrieta 10-8 to ensure at least a share of the league title. Great Oak would have to lose their last three and Vista Murrieta would have to win out.
Southwestern League Standings
Great Oak High School 7-0
Vista Murrieta High School 4-3
Temecula Valley High School4-2
Chaparral High School 2-4
Murrieta Valley High School 2-4
Murrieta Mesa High School 0-6
The Wolfpack is among the top five in CIF Southern Section Division 3. They have outscored their opponents 220 -71 with an average margin of victory of 11.7 points (15.4 – 3.7).
The Great Oak players universally cite team atmosphere as a big factor in the success: “The team has really come together. Cheering for each other. Overall putting in a much higher effort with more intensity than we were in years past,” Robbins explains. Skelton adds “We have a great chance at going all the way to a championship. We are a very cohesive group this year. The camaraderie is excellent. We are all really good friends and we really play as a team.”
Junior Anthony Agbay (26-12), freshman Harrison Carrillo (28-18), sophomore Matt Kim (30-14), junior Quinton Nguyen (32-11) and sophomore Connor Davis (10-7) round out the varsity line-up.
“We are having a great season. The kids work hard every day. The attitude is very positive. We have had to play very tough competition and we have come out well so far. So we are just looking to keep momentum going into the CIF playoffs,” remarks head coach Ray Fisher.
With the strength of the Southwestern League victories and a recent win over #2 (D4 CIF) Redlands, this team may be riding that momentum for some time to come. And, look out, the Wolfpack starting players haven’t stopped growing and they will all be back next year.