Earlier in this high school boys tennis season, Riverhead freshman Khang Nguyen had a question for his coach, Lonnie Hughes. In essence, Nguyen asked why he had to play in the first singles spot.
Hughes’ answer was short, simple and to the point: “You’re the best player on the team.”
So, that’s how Nguyen found himself — a ninth-grader in his first year on the team who has only about a year of playing experience behind him — trading hits with the best players on Riverhead’s opposing teams.
It has been, and will continue to be, an education for Nguyen, as well as Hughes, who had never coached a tennis team before this year. Both are learning on the job.
The process is complicated by the fact that Riverhead has only eight players, two shy of filling out a complete lineup. And the Blue Waves are young and inexperienced.
Hughes, asked what’s the most important thing his players need, answered: “Right now, the basics, you know, being a young team. Technique at this level is really important. We just need to work on our basics, groundstrokes, volleying, basically getting the ball over the net.”
Riverhead is still searching for its first win, dropping to 0-4 overall and in Suffolk County League VIII with a 7-0 loss at William Floyd Thursday.
Nguyen was the most competitive of the Riverheaders, although he lost, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, to junior Patrick Barnett. Barnett fought off four set points to force the first-set tiebreaker.
The first set is when Nguyen showed some of his best stuff before Barnett took four of the first five games in the second set.
Barnett broke Nguyen’s serve seven times, and put away 28 winners, with 11 service aces.
“Khang is making progress,” Hughes said. “For us right now, we just need to kind of work on controlling the ball and approaching the net and putting the ball away when you get an opportunity. I would say right now he’s a groundstroker. I want him to be more aggressive, you know, come to the net, but I would say right now he’s more of a baseliner than a net player, but he’ll get there.”
In second singles, Sergei Rogers downed Abdullah Aslam, 6-0, 6-2. Shorthanded Riverhead forfeited third and fourth singles.
William Floyd (3-1, 3-1) dropped only one game in the three doubles matches. The first doubles pair of Dorian Delson and Van Schaick scored a 6-0, 6-0 win over Casmir Lesiewicz and James Vogel. In second doubles, John Celeno and Nick Rowehl were 6-0, 6-1 winners over Asad Ashraf and Nick Collier. Third doubles went to Asa Ostrowski and Ephram Romao, 6-0, 6-0, over brothers Alex and Brian Bondarchuk.
Nguyen is 1-3 at first singles this season. “For experience, it’s like great, and it’s been fun and all, but it’s still kind of tough,” he said. He added: “I love tennis. Honestly, this season, I just want to get the experience of how the players play and how to play outside because I’m used to playing inside more.”
Hughes has been offering encouragement for his young first singles player.
“Right now I’m proud of him for taking the lead and I think in the next few weeks he’ll improve greatly,” the coach said. “That is a role that you acquire when you’re number one, and I think he’ll grow into it.”
Photo caption: Riverhead freshman Khang Nguyen has taken on the challenge of playing first singles. (Credit: Bob Liepa)