After having their quest for five-consecutive state titles end last season in the semifinals at Radford, Va., the George Mason High School boys tennis team will get a crack at defending champion Gate City tomorrow, with the opportunity to start a completely new streak on the horizon.
The Mustangs had little trouble dispatching their opponent Friday afternoon, downing Appomattox Regional Governor’s School 5-0 in under two hours. Mason’s depth was on display throughout the match, as all six of its singles players won in straight sets. Senior Johnny Vroom, whose No. 3 match did not count toward the official score because it finished after five other Mustangs won their singles contests, also rolled through his opponent.
Junior Tim Goetz got the ball rolling in the No. 2 slot, crushing Ross Oglesby in straight sets 6-0, 6-0. Goetz used a dazzling array of shots and powerful winners to secure the victory in 30 minutes and was rarely tested against a clearly overmatched opponent. Goetz won the first set with a brutal smash at the net, the type of overwhelming play that characterized his match.
Goetz’s partner in the state doubles tournament, senior Brian Sham, won a crucial match at No. 1 against Perry Lowder in a game featuring the two losers of yesterday’s singles tournament semifinals. Sham, who came out on Thursday visibly nervous, regained his confidence against Lowder, emerging victorious 6-3, 6-1.
“In the first set I was struggling with my forehand but I seemed to get it back in the second set and just keep building on that level,” Sham said. “I tried to play it more consistent because yesterday I just sprayed the balls everywhere. My serve was really working today.”
Up 2-1 after three holds in the second set, Sham broke on consecutive Lowder serves, relying more exclusively on forehand angles down the alley. After Lowder broke serve in the first set, Sham followed suit to go up 4-3, forcing his opponent to move all over the court. Even with Lowder at the net, Sham found no problem in punishing the ball from the baseline.
“I talked to Brian on the second changeover,” Mason coach Matt Sowers said. “His drop shot for this tournament had not been there and he often uses a one-hand backhand for a drop shot. I told him for the rest of the tournament he had to use two hands and he did just that. He went from 3-2 to 6-2 in the first set.”
Classmate Thomas Burnett, playing at No. 4, rang in after Goetz with relative ease, winning 6-0, 6-1 over Fenton L. Bland III. While he did not play at the net as much as he usually does, Burnett rode 11 winners and just nine unforced errors to the victory.
Burnett cruised through the first set, playing aggressively throughout his match. Even though a few unforced errors allowed Bland to take a game in the second set, Burnett’s composure on the court allowed him to put his Dragon opponent away.
Vroom served as Mason’s de facto emotional catalyst, visibly fired-up throughout his contest against Matthew Cody. Screams from both players rang out across the Radford University courts, bringing intensity to Mason’s roster according to Sham.
“In the first set for me it was kind of a struggle, but the enthusiasm and energy from the other teammates pushed me,” Sham said. “Johnny’s one of our leaders, he gives us all the energy that we feed off of and we perform because of all the energy we get from him.”
“The other guy came with a lot of fire, so every time I play a try to match and even get a little more pumped up than he does,” Vroom added. “It helps me out, gets me through the tough points.”
The senior ran into some trouble early, falling in the first game of the opening set, eventually holding to climb back to 2-1. However, he broke back by utilizing a powerful serve and well-placed shots from the baseline; eventually breaking again and then holding serve to take the set 6-3.
“It’s just the pressure,” Vroom said, when asked about dropping the first game. “Even when I started out I was really nervous and shaking a bit, but once you get used to playing on a big stage with everyone watching you, you get used to it and get comfortable with it. Eventually I think it helps you because you can’t mess up because everyone’s watching.”
Cody took the first game of the second set, but ceded a break and then allowed Vroom to hold serve, falling behind 2-1. Vroom finally broke and concluded the match as his teammates were finishing up, winning 6-3, 6-2. Vroom, who played in the state doubles tournament with Goetz last year, felt as though his experienced played an important factor today in coming back after dropping the first game of both sets.
“Some of the young guys haven’t been on the big stage yet so you have to bring them up because I’ve been here four years and I know what it’s like,” Vroom said. “I love playing with these guys and I bring that into whatever I do, to just be part of the team. That’s what it’s all about.”
Sophomore Sam Waters, competing in his first state tournament, won his match against John Nicholson III 6-2, 6-3. Waters, who last year won in the No. 2 slot after taking over for then-junior Brian Sham in a regional match, showed little nerves usually typical of a younger player on a bigger stage.
“His win was huge,” Sowers said. “[Sam] had smiles from ear to ear coming ff the court. For a sophomore to step onto that court for the first time and winning it pretty convincingly, I was pleased to see that.”
Senior Chris An won the deciding contest at No. 6, overcoming 28 unforced errors and 15 double faults against just nine winners to defeat Jesse Horton 6-1, 6-2. Displaying consistency throughout the year, An and other players lower on the Mason roster should prove crucial to its title hopes, according to Sowers.
The Mustangs will take on Gate City tomorrow at noon at Radford University. The Blue Devils were 5-4 winners over Radford High School earlier Friday on the Virginia Tech indoor courts.
“I would say that I’m confident in all of my players to go out there, but I don’t know the outcome of tomorrow,” Sowers said. “I’m pleased to see that Gate City and Radford had a match that went all the way down to the third doubles. Our guys watching them gave us a lot of confidence looking at the matchups.”
“We came here trying to get this state title, so I think that with this win we can be able to go into the finals with a good chance of winning,” Sham added. “If we all play well we’re going to take this home.”