2015 Section VI Champion: Jack McClaren of East Aurora.
Tough decision: Mike Kessler of Williamsville North was something of a juggler last year. He was good enough to play in the state championships in tennis, and good enough to play in the state championships in golf. That led to some difficulty when the two sports’ championships were held at the same time.
This year, Kessler, a junior, has decided to concentrate on his golf game. He has a chance at some scholarships in that sport and opted to specialize in golf for the time being.
Making a difference: It’s obviously helpful to have a great player on a high school tennis team, but depth is much more crucial. Remember, matches are a best-of-seven situation, and that great player can only participate in one match. A team still needs three more wins.
However, topping a good team with a top-notch player can make it a great team. When someone terrific is inserted in first singles, the No. 1 player slides down to second singles. Then the No. 2 player moves down a notch, and so does No. 3. The fourth-best player can concentrate on doubles. It’s a ripple effect.
Who’s good as a team? The general rule is that the ECIC schools produce the best players and teams; the Division I and II members of the suburban league traditionally have been the area’s best. Schools like Orchard Park, Williamsville North, Williamsville East and Amherst are doing well so far. In Division III, Pioneer has been a surprise and is battling East Aurora, while Alden and Eden top Division IV.
In the Southern Tier, Southwestern is usually the dominant team. The City of Buffalo schools have co-ed programs; City Honors has done extremely well in recent years. Nichols is a strong independent school, while Lockport and Olean also have done well.
But there are always surprises. Jonathan Luce was an outstanding player for Maple Grove (a Section VI champion) and boosted that program; he played at St. Bonaventure.
Merger-mania: West Seneca West and West Seneca East combined forces this year, as did Jamestown and Falconer.
Moving on: The boys have played their state championship in the U.S. Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow for years, and next year the girls will join them there. Now everyone will have the same chance to play on the same courts as the ones Serena Williams and Roger Federer use in late August/early September.
Tough sledding: Section VI’s boys have never won a state championship in singles, and the big problem is numbers. There are usually many good players from the New York City area, so anyone coming out of that area is bound to be a handful for a Western New Yorker.
As one local coach put it, a good junior tournament in Western New York might have 16 good players. A tournament in New York City at the same level of play might have 128 participants.
Change in seasons: The girls have always played their tennis in the fall, while the boys have stuck to the spring. About 15 years ago, there was talk about having them both play in the same season. But the vote was 16-14 against it, and that’s the way it has stayed.
Dates to remember: May 23-27, the Section VI Championships will be played at Lancaster High School. From there, it’s on to the state championships at the U.S. Tennis Center on June 2-4.
Prep Talk Player of the Year: No matter how bright the future of Greg Hastings of North Tonawanda appears to be, don’t forget that McClaren won this honor as well as a Section VI title last year. He shouldn’t be overlooked.