Boys tennis: Youth movement carrying PVCICS as wins pile high

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/5/2022 7:51:38 PM
Modified: 5/5/2022 7:50:08 PM

HOLYOKE – On May 11, 2021, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School boys’ tennis team played the first match in program history on a rainy day in Greenfield — a 4-1 loss to the Green Wave.

It remains the only loss the Dragons have ever suffered over the past two seasons.

Since that day, PVCICS has ripped off 18 consecutive victories, the most recent a 4-1 win over St. Mary’s on Thursday at Crosier Field. All three singles players – No. 1 Aiden Cleary (6-1, 6-4), No. 2 Hugo Shinn (6-0, 6-0) and No. 3 James Scott (6-2, 6-2) walked away with wins, as did No. 2 doubles team Clayton English and Julian Lee-Choi. The No. 1 doubles team of Derek and Devan Ye nearly pulled off a comeback, dropping the first set 6-4 but winning the second, 6-3. The duo ultimately dropped a 10-5 decision in a third-set tiebreaker.

The team victory has the Dragons 9-0 on the season, matching their win total from last year and lengthening their seemingly endless streak.

“We're going to keep it going forever,” PVCICS head coach Mike Locher said with a smile after Thursday’s win.

It certainly feels like it watching the Dragons play. Despite the boys’ tennis program beginning just last year, PVCICS has quickly established itself among the teams to beat in the Pioneer Valley. What makes it all the more impressive is how young the Dragons are – on a 13-player squad, the oldest competitor is just a sophomore; the team’s best players are eighth and seventh graders. 

“Part of it was some of the parents were asking about the possibility of creating a team, and those parents had kids who already played. And then I added in a couple of athletes who weren't necessarily tennis players, they were just very good athletes and they've honed their skills,” Locher said. “It's just been remarkable. I think a lot of programs are struggling to find tennis players and I've got 13. It's an embarrassment of riches.”

The depth has been helpful both when facing off against other teams and as their own group has maneuvered through the season. Cleary injured his wrist in the first match of the season, and has only recently made his way back to the court for the last two matches.

His teammates have been more than up to the task of filling in that spot for him – both Shinn and Scott have stepped up and played up a rung when they’ve needed to, and Locher has a variety of players he’s been able to slot in at the doubles spots.

“James Scott played third singles today. He has been the one singles player who's played every match. And he’s played everywhere from first singles to third singles, and I think his versatility and the ability to raise his game when we need him to has really been key to the fact that we've been undefeated so far,” Locher said.

Many of the players on the squad are returners, but some, like sixth-graders Derek and Devan Ye, are new to the team. Despite that, they’ve learned quickly and slotted right in among the more seasoned veterans. Shinn, who’s one of the returners, has noticed the team’s improvement from its first season to now. 

“I feel like we've been really able to stick together and we've actually improved a lot since last season,” Shinn said. “I feel like everyone's confident in the strokes and we're able to out-match the other opponents mentally.” 

The Dragons are going to be busy as the end of the season draws nearer — they’re scheduled to play five matches in their next 10 days, all against opponents they haven’t yet faced this year. Regardless of how those results shake out, Locher thinks his team can make some noise in the postseason.

“I'm really curious what the state power rankings are going to say about us,” he said. “With the power ranking formula, I’m not sure how that'll work out. But I'd like to make it to the Western Massachusetts team finals, I think we're definitely capable of that. I don't know how we'd match up against Lee, but that's something to find out. And I'd like to go at least a couple of rounds in the state tournament.”

The best part of it all for PVCICS? Every single player could come back next season… and the season after that… and for many of them, the season after that. With the combination of youth, skill and dedication that the Dragons have, they’re going to be a fearsome opponent for many years to come.  

“I hate to use the word dynasty but there's potential here if all these guys stay at the school,” Locher said.

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