April 3rd, 2014

Former Valkyries, Tiger give Knights punch

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Conor Revell

Staff Writer

Former Valkyries, Tiger give Knights punch
Zachary Kuo, who won a state doubles title at St. X, now is a heavy hitter for Bellarmine / photo by Jeremy Hopkins

John Mican started coaching the Bellarmine women’s tennis team in 2003 before adding the men’s squad to his duties in 2010 and quickly discovered the rich high school tennis traditions at Sacred Heart and St. Xavier.

Sophomore Caitlin Hanley and freshman Sydney Thompson are Sacred Heart alums and are now doubles partners. Freshman Zachary Kuo, who won the state doubles championship as a senior at St. X, also plays for the Knights.

“Their facilities are phenomenal over there,” Mican said about Sacred Heart and St. X. “The athletic directors have totally bought into the tennis programs at both schools. They have so many team state championships, especially St. X. You get better by playing better people, and there are so many good tennis players at both schools.”

Mican’s first recruit was Elizabeth Bohnert, who graduated from Sacred Heart in 2005 and played on Bellarmine’s team that appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2008.

“Elizabeth was the true team player,” Mican said. “Until Caitlin came here, I hadn’t had a player from Sacred Heart here since Elizabeth. Not that I hadn’t tried, but she was the first one that showed interest since then.”

When Mican took over the men’s duties, Paul Clark was the last St. X alum to play for the Knights and had graduated in 2010.

While the days of Bohnert and Clark are long gone, Mican still recruits the local Catholic schools heavily.

“One thing about all of these kids that come from Catholic schools is that I didn’t meet their parents until they signed with us,” Mican said. “They came here on their own. A lot of the kids come with their parents and their parents are the ones asking all of the questions and stuff. They’re mature and they’re ready for college already.”

Hanley won state doubles championships with Katherine English during her junior and senior years at Sacred Heart. When Hanley graduated, Thompson teamed with English and they won another state title.

Now Hanley and Thompson are doubles partners at Bellarmine.

“Coach (Mican) noticed us practicing with each other and saw that we kind of clicked,” Thompson said. “Once he saw that we started practicing more with each other, we started playing matches together against other teams, and so far it has been pretty successful.”

English now plays field hockey player for Davidson College and Thompson and Hanley ended up as Knights.

“Caitlin is a phenomenal doubles player at the college level,” Mican said. “Sydney has a little ways to go, but the two of them work really well together. Sydney is the steady one, while Caitlin will go for her shots and they’re both so supportive of each other. If one messes up, they console each and are like, ‘Let’s keep going at it and not give up.’ ”

Thompson and Hanley have had to take on different roles than the one they had in high school. English typically played back on the baseline while Hanley and Thompson played at the net. Now Thompson usually stays back on the baseline, but sometimes Hanley drops back while Thompson moves to the net.

“They both play differently, so I had to adjust,” Thompson said. “They each have different strengths and weaknesses. But I think other than that it’s fun to play with Caitlin because we both know how we play from high school. We played with each other in practice, and it’s pretty fun playing with each other.”

The Bellarmine women’s team currently has an 8-3 record, 2-0 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

Hanley and Thompson are 5-3 when they play together and have won their last two matches.

“Caitlin has such good instincts on the court,” Mican said. “She can kind of read where the other team is going to hit the ball before they even hit it. I guess it’s the type of person she is on the doubles court. She’s good at the net and with her serve. Both of them have great doubles return. They both understand the concept of doubles, and that it’s not about outright winner but that you’re trying to put the ball in a different place.”

Even though Hanley is older, Thompson finds herself calming down her teammate when things get difficult.

“She (Caitlin) is very good at the net,” Thompson said. “She’s very aggressive. I know when I’m up to serve its very important to be very consistent with my serve – and she’s very aggressive at the net with her game up there. And then it’s very important for me to calm her down when she gets upset about things because she plays better with a clear mind.”

Kuo adjusting to college tennis

Unlike Thompson, Kuo didn’t have a former high school teammate to welcome him when he joined Bellarmine’s squad. But that doesn’t keep him from flourishing.

“Zach’s determination is pretty fierce,” Mican said. “His net game is phenomenal. His approach to the net is probably one of his strongest points and he has a great forehand. A lot of people have it, but not many use it like he does. It’s not a shot you see a lot of times.”

But Kuo will say the college game is a lot different than what he faced in high school.

“The main difference is that the No. 1 players are a lot better,” Kuo said. “I’m not all that great yet, but the competition is a lot tougher. These guys are a lot more focused on tennis than those who played high school tennis.”

Mican paired Kuo with freshman Jose Legarreta, who is from Madrid, Spain. That makes for a different experience than what he had with Parker Thieneman at St. X.

Legarreta does speak Spanish, but Kuo complimented his fellow freshman for how well he speaks English.

“It’s a fun experience,” Kuo said. “Jose is a great guy and his English isn’t bad at all. The communication is great. He’s really good at his serve and he does a great job of keeping the ball in play while I try to react at the net.”

The duo is 9-3 in doubles matches and seems to have a bright future on the men’s team that is 6-6, 1-1 in the GLVC.

Mican had to think a minute when asked what Kuo can get better at.

“Everyone can improve in something, but he’s pretty good,” the coach said. “If he gets better at everything, then he can become an All-American.”

Only three weeks remain in the regular season before the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament begins April 18 in St. Louis.



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