The boys tennis team at Clovis West High School has volleyed to a winning record with players who are getting their first taste of top-seeded action.
“A lot of our guys are new to playing in the Top Six, and they don’t have any pressure,” head coach Neil Castro said recently. “They have a carefree attitude. They’ve been competing hard and getting more confidence as the year’s gone on.”
As of April 5, Clovis West was 10-4 overall, and 4-2 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
The Golden Eagles entered 2017 having lost to graduation five of their top players from a team that competed in the Division I finals last year. Clovis North High School defeated Clovis West in that championship.
Only senior captain Taka Shin returned from last year’s Top Six. He is now No. 1 and joined in the top spots by Cody Castro, Stefanos Sophocleous, Tommy Sesock, Joel Quiroz and Trevor Van Beurden.
Castro said he’s excited to see these players get their chance. “They’re talented enough, but last year they were behind some guys who were a little older and had been through the battles,” Castro said.
Sometimes, he added, a player’s inexperience in the top spots can be an advantage. “They’re not overthinking. They’re just playing,” Castro said.
His greatest challenge is getting them to focus and know when moments in a match demand intensity. “But they’re learning that,” Castro said. “They’re all good kids. They just need a little direction sometimes.”
Among his top players, Shin sets a good example of a strong work ethic and intensity. Castro, Sophocleous and Sesock bring more vocal and emotional personalities to the court.
“We have guys who are different, and they can feed off of each other,” Neil Castro said.
Cody Castro is his son, and that sets up an interesting dynamic. “I think I’m a little hard on him at times,” Castro said. “But once we leave here, we’re father and son. We talk tennis and have fun.”
Meanwhile, Clovis North continues to pose the biggest challenge for the Golden Eagles in the TRAC. “They are the team to beat,” Castro said.
In both league matches this season, Clovis North defeated Clovis West 6-3.
“We’ll just keep working,” Castro said. “In this program, players know the expectation. We’re going to compete until we win or lose. As long as we’re giving 110 percent, that’s what I care about.”
Here is a look at the top three players for Clovis West:
Taka Shin, 18, senior
When did you start playing tennis: Sixth grade. “All my siblings played tennis. So I took it up, too, and they taught me. I keep playing because it’s a unique sport – very individual. It builds on your mental game. That can translate once you go into a job. It teaches you a lot about getting out of situations on your own.”
Highlight of the season: “Seeing all my young teammates step up because we lost a lot of guys from last year’s team. Just seeing them grow from when I used to play with them in middle school.”
Favorite pro tennis player: Novak Djokovic. “His forms are really perfect, and he’s a solid player.”
Cody Castro, 15, sophomore
When did you start playing tennis: Second grade. His father started him. “Tennis has always been one of my favorite sports, and it’s fun to play.” (He also plays basketball at Clovis West.)
Highlight of the season: “The team. It’s just a fun team to be around. And the competition. Our toughest competition is Clovis North.”
Favorite pro tennis player: Gaël Monfils from France. “He’s a real solid player, and he’s always energetic. He’s just really fun to watch.”
Stefanos Sophocleous, 17, junior
When did you start playing tennis: 4 years old. “My dad was a professional tennis player in Greece, and he introduced me to it. I enjoy tennis. It’s fun, and it runs in my family. My brother plays. My sister plays. And my dad was really good.”
Highlight of the season: Defeating a highly-favored doubles team from San Jose in the California Classic at Clovis West. His partner was Cody Castro.
Favorite pro tennis player: Gaël Monfils. “When I’m on the court, I like to be really funny, and he’s the perfect tennis player for that. He’s really funny and good. He knows when to play serious, and he knows when to have fun. He’s not a boring person. I like to have fun on the court because the only way to get better is to enjoy what you’re doing.”
Adrian Antunez, senior
Sawyer Brunn, senior
Cody Castro, sophomore
Beshoy Gabriel, senior
Nick Gibson, junior
Nico Ilic, sophomore
William McBride, junior
Conner Palmer, freshman
Joel Quiroz, freshman
Tommy Sesock, junior
Taka Shin, senior
Stefanos Sophocleous, junior
Trevor Van Beurden, senior
Moosa Zahid, junior