There’s a new force in boys high school tennis this year. Philip Simmons is already an overwhelming favorite to win the Class AA state championship.
And why not? The Iron Horses look unbeatable on paper with the top-ranked boys 18 and boys 16 players in the South on their roster.
“The level of tennis ability in practice at Philip Simmons is unbelievable,” insists coach Richard Schulz.
Schulz has reason to be excited. The Iron Horses’ top five players are all ranked among the top 25 players in the South in their age groups.
Southern boys 18 No. 1 Coy Simon works his magic at the top, using a unique pair of forehands, one from each side. And Southern boys 16 No. 1 Max Smith is just Mr. Solid.
Both Simon and Smith played on the unbeaten 2017 Hanahan team that won the Class AAA state title.
To complete the singles lineup, Schulz can call on Southern 15th-ranked boys 16 Mitchell Deames, and Southern boys 14s Nos. 22 and 23 Carson Baker and Jake Smith.
“We are pretty good,” Schulz admits.
Philip Simmons will open its season Feb. 20 at defending Class AAA state champion Bishop England.
Coach Kristin Fleming Arnold’s BE team will continue to be a threat in Class AAA, even after losing former top-ranked U.S. junior Jared Pratt to Wisconsin and Lleyton Dacuba to Queens. The Bishops can still depend on returning starters Zach Dacuba, Harrison Estey, Lukas Gosselin and Rafe Flathman, as well as newcomer Hector Romero.
Same story in AAAAA
Wando, which went 18-3 last year while winning the Class AAAAA Lower State championship, should be a threat again after adding a potential No. 1 player in junior Luke Prendergast, who played for Oceanside Collegiate Academy in the past.
“We will be strong again this year,” 12th-year Wando coach Winde Ellenberg said.
Prendergast is expected to push last year’s top three players (Alex Shaw, Will Bumgarner and Jack Johnson) down a notch in the lineup, and Nick Heindel is back to play No. 5. Thus, Ellenberg predicts that the Warriors “will be stronger down the line at 2-5.”
Second-year Summerville coach Jesse Gladis hopes the Green Wave can challenge Wando, but he admits, “The team is looking really young this year. We lost four players from the past year’s roster.”
Gladis said seniors Dontrell Whetsell and Kordell Whetsell have stepped up to provide leadership, while Rolling Middle School eighth-grader Sam Dimuzio “is pushing for the No. 1 spot.”
Citadel seeks success
At the opposite end of local tennis, sixth-year coach Chuck Kriese is trying to turn things around at The Citadel. In recent years, the Bulldogs have struggled mightily just to be competitive.
The Citadel posted a 10-25 record in 2018, going winless in the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs entered this weekend’s matches in Florida with a 4-10 record.
They will open their home season and SoCon season next Saturday with a 1 p.m. match against Furman.
Senior Roy Hobson has won four of his last six matches at No. 1 singles for the Bulldogs, including a 6-4, 6-4 win over Georgia Tech’s Andrew Li, who is ranked 91st in NCAA singles.
Williams at Fed Cup
Local junior Sophie Williams is spending the weekend in Asheville, N.C., with the U.S. women’s Fed Cup team as one of four Team USA
junior girls members selected to participate in the Fed Cup activities.
A left-hander who was All-Lowcountry in 2017 as a Porter-Gaud eighth-grader but now attends online schooling while training at the USTA national training center in Orlando, Fla., and with Martin Zumpft at Wild Dunes Resort, Williams was in a team photo from Asheville that included Madison Keys and the rest of the Fed Cup team along with Billie Jean King and Fed Cup coach Kathy Rinaldi.
“It was amazing to meet Billie Jean King. She spoke to us for an hour and a half, telling stories and giving us advice,” Williams said. “It has also been amazing to be with the USA pros and coach Rinaldi.”
LCTA'S cold start
I haven't heard anyone who has been pleased with the Lowcountry Tennis Association's cold start to the spring season.
Winter had just begun a few weeks when the spring season got under way in freezing or near-freezing weather. I thought it was bad that the men's 18-plus 3.5 season started on Jan. 14, but some women's team members put on their gloves and grabbed their rackets the week before that.
"Thank you for your comments in your column about the early spring season. Our first match (women's 3.5 18-plus night) was Jan. 10 when it was 44 degrees at the start of the match," team captain Meghan Rowland wrote. "This Thursday night (Feb. 7) will be our fifth match of the season and the first with reasonable temperatures.
"It's not easy playing tennis in gloves. In the past, the season has ended sometime in April (typically we have the week of the Volvo Cup Open off), but this year it ends March 14. It's insane."
Ladies 4.0 captain Stacey Berlin wrote: "It seems to me, something needs to be done so that we can still enjoy tennis and be competitive in Charleston. Spring tennis should not begin in the winter month of January."
Alan Schmitt is the new boys tennis coach at Academic Magnet, taking over from Steve Percy, who directed the Raptors to the Class AA state title in 2018. The Raptors have their work cut out for them as they move up to Class AAA this spring to compete against perennial power Bishop England.
After a successful Junior Australian Open showing that included a runner-up finish with Chloe Beck of Watkinsville, Ga., in doubles, Emma Navarro is now the No. 22 junior in the world. Navarro is scheduled to play this year’s Junior French Open and Junior Wimbledon.