Prep Impressions: May 26, 2009

I covered the CIF-SS Division 5 boys tennis semifinal between El Monte Arroyo and Riverside Arlington for the Riverside Press-Enterprise on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 and came away thinking about how Arlington senior Jharen Gines, the top prep player in Riverside County, has trouble against players who keep him deep along the baseline.

Gines (5-8, 135 lbs) struggled against Arroyo’s Sam Ho in his opening set, eventually losing 6-2. Ho’s powerful and accurate forehand prevented Gines from approaching the net and caused Arlington’s No. 1 player to tire quickly. When Gines was able to charge the net he made unforced errors which were clearly the result of a loss of focus brought on by fatigue.

Gines had been unbeaten (67-0) in team play this season but seemed overmatched against the taller, longer Arroyo players. He still managed to earn victories in his final two sets.

“I don’t know what to say,” head coach Eric Biddle said during Gines set with Ho. “He’s struggling out there a little but today.”

In his second set, against Arroyo’s Johnny Lim, Gines fell behind 5-2 but managed to hang in long enough to break Lim’s serve. His confidence regained, Gines won point after point and — with his girlfriend cheering him on — pounded away at Lim with a jump volley and solid net play until he had tied the set at 5-all. Gines then served his way to a 6-5 advantage before putting Lim away with a flurry of competent returns that proved too much for his opponent to withstand. Gines added a 6-0 victory over Arroyo’s Thinh Tran in his final set to finish his senior season 69-1.

“I wasn’t satisfied,” said Gines when asked for his thoughts on the day’s performance. “But it’s OK. I’m not playing just for myself, you know? I’m playing for my team.”

In the end, Arlington lost 10-8 to Arroyo, which advances to the D5 final. The Lions (20-1) will not.

Arlington head coach Eric Biddle was coolly gracious in defeat. He shook Arroyo coach Anthony Lim’s hand before he had too, and made sure he greeted and congratulated every Arroyo player and staff member.

“To be down 4-8 and end up 8-10… that was a good come back. We were just one short. We were doing good but we didn’t quite get over the top. A couple more closer matches earlier could of helped us but it was the first time we were really down all season and had to fight back” Biddle said.

It was obvious that the coach was leading a team playing above expectations. After all, the girls side, coached by Biddle, had already won the school’s first CIF tennis title earlier this year. Winning a title on the boys side in the same year would be crazy talk.

“(That match) for us was ice cream. To finish the season 20-1 on the boys and 22-1 in the girls and one CIF champion… it’s a pretty darn good year. I’m proud of the kids.” said Biddle, who’ll return seven of the nine players who competed in a CIF semifinal match.

“It’s tough but we only lose two seniors — Jharen and Steven Gomez — everyone else will be back. It’s really a growing thing,” Biddle said.

No. 2 singles player Daniel Garcia looks to assume the No. 1 spot but will be pushed by Justin Andra, Eliott Moreno, Andrew Pena and Mason Biddle, the coach’s son. Adrian Huape and Ramon Soto will likely be featured in doubles.

The team’s shy star, Gines, carries a low tone when he speaks but is much more expressive on the court — his jump-return is an impressive physical display. For his part, he’s just excited about the sudden exposure he’s helped provide for the school.

“It’s really big. Making Arlington’s name bigger, you know?” Gines said. “Getting the name out there. It’s pretty nice.”

Biddle, surely the CIF tennis coach of the year, will have plenty of memories from this team. When asked what this season has meant to him, Biddle smiles.

“These guys work hard. When they’re done with practice at 5 or 6 or whenever, they’re the kind of guys who’ll go and play at RCC until 10. And then they’re over at my house playing ping-pong until midnight. I have to tell Mason to kick’em out. They’re a lot of fun,” Biddle said.

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