Playing tennis for Clovis West High is not something Billy Griffith has to do.
A scholarship to a premier Division I college is in his future whether or not Griffith ever swung a racket for the Golden Eagles.
But the sports nut in Griffith made him want to be part of a team. So Griffith joined one in a sport where, individually, he is among the best 18-and-younger players in the nation.
"I've always liked team sports and I played every sport when I was younger," Griffith said. "I really enjoy the team atmosphere. I love the team spirit and cheering on my teammates and seeing if they can pull through."
That's one of the reasons Griffith plays for Clovis West, despite rarely being pushed — and never getting beaten — by Central Section opposition in three varsity seasons. The Bee's Player of the Year went 27-1 in singles and 19-1 in doubles as a junior, pushing his career records to 63-1 (singles) and 40-2 (doubles).
"Most of the high school and college coaches around town collectively believe he's the best high school player ever to come out of the Central Valley," first-year Golden Eagles coach Hank Bessinger said.
That's because Griffith, who trains under Brad Stine at Stine 360 Tennis, is ranked No. 2 in Northern California and No. 27 nationally in the Boys 18s division by the U.S. Tennis Association. He was previously No. 1 in NorCal and No. 13 in the nation in Boys 16s.
"He makes everything look really effortless," Bessinger said. "He's so smooth on the court. And he's versatile. He can beat you a number of different ways. He's beating other good high school players (6-0, 6-0) and making it look easy. It's unreal to watch him do that."
There's another reason Griffith has played for the Golden Eagles: The Streak.
When Griffith arrived as a freshman, Clovis West had won two consecutive section D-I titles.
That streak has grown to five after the top-seeded Golden Eagles' 5-4 victory over No. 2 Bullard on May 16. Griffith won 6-0, 6-0 over Knights' No. 1 Viran Batth, who finished third in the section Individual Championship.
It was a Clovis West team that featured 10 seniors and Griffith wanted to make sure they went out on top.
"At this point in Billy's tennis career, some people would argue that it's not beneficial to him to play high school tennis," Bessinger said. "But he played for those 10 seniors."
After juggling multiple sports, Griffith decided to focus on tennis in the sixth grade with dreams of following in the footsteps of his favorite player, Roger Federer.
Griffith soon will decide on a scholarship offer — UCLA, USC and Cal are his top choices — and embark on a college career he hopes to use as a springboard to the professional circuit.
"I just try to get better day by day so I can reach my goals, and my ultimate goal is to be a pro," he said. "I've improved a lot since I first started. What I'm doing is working, and if I keep working, it could happen."
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Player of the Year
School: Clovis West
He's qualified because: Widely regarded as the best high school tennis player to come out of the region, Griffith went 27-1 in singles and 19-1 in doubles as the Golden Eagles won a fifth consecutive Central Section Division I team title. The only loss of his 63-1 high school singles career came against UCLA-bound Gage Brymer of University High-Irvine 8-6 in a pro-set in March. "Sometimes tennis players are prima donnas, especially the ones who are really good," Clovis West coach Hank Bessinger said. "But he lost the same way he wins, with class." Griffith, ranked No. 2 in Northern California and No. 27 nationally in Boys 18s by the United States Tennis Association, beat Brymer 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5) in a national tournament two weeks later. Griffith closed the prep season with an epic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over Michael Genender of Harvard Westlake-Studio City during Clovis West's 7-1 loss in the CIF Southern California Regional.