Conrad has come far in a relatively short time period

BOB LIEPA FILE PHOTO | Seth Conrad is in his third varsity season and second year as Riverhead's No. 1 singles player — and he's still only a sophomore.

What is interesting, even more than the fact that Seth Conrad was a first singles player for the Riverhead High School boys tennis team last year as a freshman, is how far Conrad has progressed in a relatively short period of time.

Conrad said he first started hacking around with a tennis racket when he was in second grade. “I don’t know if I’d really count that because I wasn’t too good,” he said.

That cannot be said of Conrad any more, though. Since taking up tennis competitively as a seventh grader, he has made great strides. After the middle school team disbanded, Conrad won a spot on the varsity team as an eighth grader at second singles and gained a tennis education.

“In eighth grade I feel I progressed very much because I was constantly surrounded by people who had been playing many years longer than I had, and it was just a great opportunity to play year round with a whole variety of people,” he said after Monday’s practice.

Under the careful tutelage of Riverhead Coach Bob Lum, Conrad put in extra work and it has helped. Last year, in his first season at first singles, Conrad posted a respectable 6-6 record.

“Last year I thought he was going to have a lot more trouble than he did,” Lum said. “There were some bumps along the way and he took them well. He made some adjustments.”

The right-handed Conrad did so while contending with physical ailments. He played the entire 2010 season with a torn muscle in his right shoulder that wasn’t diagnosed until after the season. Conrad, who tore the muscle while lifting weights before the season, said that after three months of physical therapy, his shoulder is “much better.”

What he sees as a bigger issue are his knees. He said physical therapy is helping him with a problem in which his kneecaps are pulled out of place.

All of this hasn’t stopped Conrad from playing tennis every week since October and running cross-country and winter track in order to maintain his stamina.

When Lum first met Conrad as a seventh grader, Conrad was a different person, not to mention player. “He was immature,” Lum said. “There were things he had to learn.”

At the same time, Lum said he knew he had a player on his hands because Conrad used his head when he played. “I could tell right away because he was patient,” Lum said. “He wasn’t one of these kids who tries to kill everything. Young guys, they want to hit everything hard … but he knew in order to win, let’s just get it back. That’s a big hurdle.”

Conrad said he attacks the net more than he used to and tries to be consistent.

“I guess I would have to say I’m a fairly consistent hitter and I’m light on my feet, so as long as I can get to the ball and hit it in, that’s all that really matters,” he said. “As you progress, you learn more difficult shots and different angles, spins. I would just like to learn as much as I can, but not all at once. I would like to learn one thing new and practice it 10,000 times until it’s perfect.”

Lum said the number one thing for Conrad to work on is his footwork. Ironically, it is Conrad’s other qualities that have hampered his footwork.

“What’s wrong with his footwork is he’s already quick and he’s got good balance, so he doesn’t think he needs to work on his footwork, so he’s actually hampering his own potential by his own ability,” Lum said. “His ability is holding him back.”

Conrad has welcomed the opportunity to play first singles, pitting his skills against the best the opposing team has to offer.

“I like it,” he said. “It gives me an opportunity to play with people who are much better than I, and that’s the best way to improve. I feel as if I’ve improved, but there’s only one way to see that.”

[email protected]