This could be the year.
The Desert Vista’s boys tennis team has finished second in the state 5A-I tennis tournament twice in the past five years and made it to the semifinals last season.
Thunder coach Wayne Brimley has everyone but Austin Goe back from that squad this year, including senior Ahmad Saleem, who finished third in the individual singles championships last spring.
“I’d say we’re in pretty decent shape,” Brimley said. “At least I wouldn’t say we’re any worse than last year even with losing Goe. Everyone has stepped up.”
The key to the Thunder’s success this season is Saleem, who is playing in his fourth varsity season.
“Ahmad is pretty much our leader and for the most part the rest of the guys have jelled together as a team,” Brimley said. “They don’t look at each other as the fourth, fifth or sixth players. They know they’re all an integral part of what it takes to win a tennis match.”
Saleem has never been vocal, but leads by example.
“He comes out, plays hard and never gives up,” Brimley said.
With his former nemeses, two-time state individual champion Andy Nguyen graduated from Mountain Pointe and Garrett Dunn also in college, Saleem should have, the East Valley anyway, as his territory.
Saleem also is playing with his younger brother, Mohammad, for the first time.
Mohammad, a freshman with tournament experience, has been placed in the fifth spot on the playing ladder and will be playing in the No. 1 doubles spot with his brother.
“He’s doing well,” Brimley said. “Initially Mohammad struggled with his confidence and that’s to be expected from a freshman. But overall he realizes that he can play at this level, and the guys have accepted him.
Bryan Wong will be in the No. 2 singles spot followed by Byeong Kim and Karl LeClerc.
Kim and LeClerc put in extra time on the court over the summer.
“Obviously it worked because they’re in the position they’re in,” Brimley said.
Michael Chen will be in the sixth spot.
A couple of second-place trophies and a third last season haven’t seemed to put pressure on the Thunder to make the semifinals again, Brimley said.
“They don’t talk about the past,” Brimley explained. “They want to win it all this year, and that’s all they talk about.”
After taking a couple of years off from tennis, senior Jon Yamaguchi is back on the court and has taken over the leadership role that Goe had last season.
“He knows he doesn’t have the skills after being away from the game,” Brimley said, “but he wants to help the team, and I’ll take someone like that anytime.”
After years of competing in the former Central Region where the Thunder played powerhouses such as Mountain Pointe and Tempe Corona del Sol, Desert Vista has moved in the Fiesta conference.
Although they are away from Mountain Pointe and Corona, the Thunder now have another perennial state power in its league, Phoenix Brophy, which knocked Desert Vista out of last season’s playoffs in the semifinals.
“It’s a challenge, but I don’t know if it’s any different from playing Mountain Pointe and Corona twice every year,” Brimley said. “We only have to play Brophy once so we’ll see how that goes.”