Mount Greylock boys tennis coach Stephen Bryant said having former No. 1 singles player Rohan Shastri on his team almost guaranteed him a point every time he stepped on the court.
The Western Massachusetts champion Shastri is gone, but Bryant is confident the remaining members of his team can continue the strong play of the Mountie tennis team.
"It was a shame we have to let [Shastri] go," Bryant said. "Nyein [Soe] will take over Rohan's spot, and he has the ability to be as good as him."
Bryant sings high praise of his new No. 1 singles player Soe. If he's as good as advertised, the Mounties will be in good shape to repeat as Western Mass. champs.
"Next year, I expect him to go all the way," Bryant said "[Soe] hits amazing shots and loves competing. He always wants to be at the top."
When comparing his current No. 1 player with Shastri, Bryant said they're completely different players. Shastri had more of a power game, while Soe is a crafty, finesse-type player. Soe said he's been training with Shastri since he was in seventh grade, and he's ready to show what he can do at No. 1.
"It's definitely a new experience," Soe said "I've never played [No. 1] before. I think I can handle it pretty well now. I've had a pretty long practice season. It's given me time to ready my game, plus many of the seniors that played No. 1 [at other schools] have graduated."
Bryant admitted that Shastri's absence does place added pressure on the rest of the team to perform.
"[Shastri] left a good impact with everybody," he said. "They see how well he plays, and it makes them want to pick up their game to the next level. If they work hard on it, they can go far with their tennis."
"The pressure is definitely there," Soe said. "[Nervousness] fades as the season goes on. In every match it's about every individual point. Don't think about being No. 1, just focus on your opponent."
As Soe adjusts to his spot atop the Mounties singles roster, doubles play will have added importance without the nearly-guaranteed point from Shastri. The new No. 1 doubles team of sophomore Graham Kaegi and junior Jake Foehl recognize the need for them to perform.
"Obviously it's important to get the point [at No. 1 doubles]," Kaegi said. "It is nerve-wracking not to have that assured point, but even when we had Rohan, we never wanted to take his point for granted.
"We'd go into every match thinking we have to get this point, and that fueled us into being a good team."
Foehl said confidence is high between the partners, and he expects to win every time he steps on the court. Even though this season is the first time the two have been doubles partners, the pair has strong chemistry and a complementary playing style.
"I think we're going to work great because Gray's a lefty and I'm a righty," Foehl said. "We have forehands on both sides returning, which is always a good thing. That coupled with communicating well on the court and we should be successful as a doubles team."
Confidence is high within the team, but as the coach, Bryant said it's his job to find the balance between confidence and over-confidence. He stresses that nothing is guaranteed, and the importance of being consistent in order to have a successful season.
"Just because we did well last year, doesn't mean we'll do well this year," he said. "Tennis is a big mind game. You could crumble easy if you get over-confident. I try to tell the guys not to get nervous and work on consistency."
To reach Akeem Glaspie:
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