Tennis: Patriots face a tough test
SCHENECTADY With Big 10 regular-season and tournament titles already tucked away, the Schenectady boys’ tennis team is looking to make some racket in the sectionals.
The Patriots open play today in the Class AA tournament, hosting Saratoga Springs on the Central Park courts.
Schenectady’s No. 1 singles player, sophomore Joshua Sagaille, hopes the home courts will be an advantage for the fifth-seeded Patriots, who won all 10 of their league matches and beat Scotia-Glenville in their only non-league match.
“I love playing at the Central Park courts. It’s where I started playing, and it’s our home courts,” said Sagaille, who has yet to lose a set (20-0) and sports a 125-14 record in games.
“We’re playing Saratoga, and we might be able to compete with them. If we win, we’d play Shen, and they’re very deep.”
Sagaille leads a young and talented Schenectady team that also saw the doubles team of 11th-graders Jon Fields and Allen Long — nominally the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 singles players — win the league tournament title.
Fields, like Sagaille, comes from a tennis-playing family. Long came out for the school team through Sagaille.
“Allen originally was Josh’s hitting partner,” said Schenectady coach Justin Hoffman. “He’s worked his way up the singles ladder the last two years.”
“Josh told me to come out, so I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot.’
“It was fun. I trained all summer. The second year, I got a singles spot.”
Fields has split his spring between the tennis courts and track.
“Jon also wanted to run track, but the track meets and tennis were both on Wednesday a lot of times,” said Hoffman.
“The track coach and I worked out a schedule that allowed Jon to do both. I just had to make sure Jon played six matches so he would qualify for sectionals.”
“I was 6 when I started, then I didn’t put as much focus on tennis for a couple of years while I was playing other sports,” Fields said.
“This is still my first sport. The others are sports I enjoy doing.”
Fields in not the exception on this team, which has standout athletes from other sports playing.
Sophomore Clem Cleworth, a state qualifier in swimmming, has played singles. Senior Keishaun Wheelings was a starter and earned second-team league honors playing basketball.
Sagaille is the most immersed in the sport. He plays year-round out of Sportime in Rotterdam, where he can also be found stringing rackets.
“Josh does a lot of stringing. He strings his own rackets, his teammates’, he strings the Niskayuna team’s rackets,” said Hoffman.
“This sport can be expensive because most serious players have more than one racket. Josh has been able to help support his playing by stringing rackets.”
“My family always played” Sagaille said. “I’ve always had fun playing, I like the individual aspect of it. It’s just you and your opponent when you’re out there on the court.”
After a typical diet of the big three — baseball, football and football — growing up, Sagaille turned his focus to tennis in middle school.
“In seventh grade, I tried out for the basketball team and got cut,” he said. “I decided I’ll focus on tennis.”
He will be the fourth seed when the individual tournament begins next weekend.
“Josh has made tremendous improvements in his game. I had him figured for the No. 4 seed, and when we got to the meeting, that’s where they already had him,” said Hoffman.
“I have a big serve and big forehand,” was how Sagaille described his game.
Schenectady would like nothing more than to make a statement for its program and the league.
“The team sectionals will be the tough one,” Fields said. “But this is the best season we’ve had, so we want to keep going.”