Skyline’s boys tennis continues comeback

Skyline's Joey Park returns a volley from Warren County's Brady Bryant during a tennis match Thursday afternoon at Skyline High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – At the beginning of the season, Skyline Hawks boys’ tennis coach Josh Brown told his team to win just one match – that was their goal.

After Thursday’s 9-0 victory over cross-town rival Warren County in the quarterfinal round of the Conference 28 tournament at Skyline, the 2016 group will be the first in school history to trip to a tournament semifinal berth.

“We haven’t had the best of boys’ tennis at Skyline for a while,” said junior Michael Bellu, who was one of several players who reaped singles victories and then had hands in doubles completing the shutout over the Wildcats.

Skyline continues the season with seven victories against eight defeats. The Hawks will travel to James Monroe on Friday to see if the magic continues. Warren closes its season without a win.

“At the beginning of the season, I told them our first goal was to win one match – one – that’s how many they won last year,” said Brown.

Skyline's Michael Bellu returns a volley near the net against Warren County's Jon Long-Leary during their singles match Thursday afternoon at Skyline High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

But with four starters returning, the Hawks looked to do better than last year’s club.

“It’s a big honor, especially as a senior, to be part of this,” said Bellu’s doubles partner victor and the winner at No. 1, Joe Park.

Park is the only player on the roster who has played five years, and thus a sign with his name on it appears on a fence at the corner of court one. It belongs to the only male after a long line of female players.

Actually, coach Brown was unsure he would be able to field a complete team. Park, Bellu, Chandler Heard, Isaiah Henry and Michael O’Malley were set, but Brown had to go into the Skyline student population to add to the team.

“We knew we’d have a team, but we weren’t sure we were going to have six singles players in tournament competition,” Brown said. “We finally got (Swiss foreign exchange student) Sebastien Reymond to come out. He hadn’t played since he was little.”

Warren County's Brady Bryant returns a volley from Skyline's Joey Park during tennis action Thursday afternoon at Skyline High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

Reymond, the No. 6 player, was up for the challenge.

“I don’t know what I can give you,” he said, “but I’ll try.”

Park filled the top of the roll on Thursday’s breezy, cloudy afternoon and defeated Warren senior Brady Bryant (6-4, 6-0) in the best-of-three sets match.

At 2, Bellu dropped Warren freshman Jon Long-Leary 6-2, 6-1.

Bellu teamed up with Park to knock off Warren’s No. 1 doubles team of Bryan and Long-Leary in the longest match of the day. The final was 6-4, 6-2.

At No. 3 singles, Ted Casile, a freshman, whipped junior Cameron Woodward 6-0, 6-0. Casile then teamed with O’Malley to best Woodward-Wyatt Payne 6-1, 6-4 in doubles play.

O’Malley won at No. 4 singles, 6-0, 6-1 over Warren’s Payne.

At 5, the winner was Skyline’s Henry over Dalton Turner 6-0, 6-1.

The No. 3 doubles team of transfer student Reymond and Chandler Heard dropped Turner and John Shipe 6-0, 6-1.

The No. 6 singles final went to Heard 6-1, 6-0 over Shipe.

Of the team, only Park has experience in the post-season level. He teamed with 2015 senior Stefano Trentini in the conference semifinals doubles match, which they lost.

“But this is our furthermost as a team. It feels good,” said the senior.

“I think his playing in postseason last year served to boost him this year,” Brown said. “I’ve seen improvement from him as a singles, doubles player and a leader,” said Brown.

Skyline had six seniors on this year’s roster versus two seniors for Warren.

“I think the thing I’d like to stress is the importance of playing year-round,” said Warren County coach Stephen Tickal. “I’ve coached for a long time and what I’ve learned is that the players who play year-round are the best players. We haven’t always had that commitment, but, with this group, I think we do.”

First-year player Long-Leary “works the year-round, and it shows,” Tickal said. “I think the others will too.”