April 3, 2007

Locals Leading Charge for SCU

Originally published in the Los Gatos Daily News

By Gordon Kass / Daily News Correspondent

Coach George Husack has the Santa Clara Broncos men's tennis program on the rise and the cornerstone of the team's success is coming from Bay Area players. The Broncos returned to the NCAA Division I national rankings this year for the first time since 2002 and a 6-1 victory over BYU on Tuesday raised their record to 14-5, including 11 wins in their last 12 matches. Bronco accomplishments include victories over Pac-10 teams Oregon and Arizona, with the latter win coming on the road.

A huge part of the squad is nearly a Bay Area prep all-star team of the last few years. Santa Clara's lineup features Los Gatos' Brian Brogan (Los Gatos High), Cupertino's Jay Wong (Mitty High), San Mateo's Steve Benvenuto (Aragon High) and Novato's Blaine Shields (San Marin High).

"Our goal is to get the best guys out of Northern California," Husack said. "We want to focus on local kids. They can stay in their backyard and compete at a high level. Each person that has come here has helped us get the next guy."

Sophomore Brogan led Los Gatos to back-to-back Central Coast Section and NorCal championships and was ranked as high as No. 30 in Boys 18s, No. 42 in Boys 16s and No. 1 in Boys 16s doubles.

At Santa Clara last year as a freshman, he won straight-set matches over USC's Chong Wang and Cal's Eoin Heavey. And Brogan is red-hot in 2007. He is shining up at the No. 2 singles position, including a 6-7, 7-6, 1-0 (10-8 in super-tiebreaker) victory in Santa Clara's 5-2 win over Oregon. Brogan also grabbed an impressive honor a few months ago by winning five straight matches in the SAP Open pre-qualifying tournament to qualify for the main qualifying draw for the annual ATP event.

"It's been a really fun experience here," Brogan said. "At Santa Clara, I've been able to make an impact right away. A couple of the guys have been stepping up this year. Jay (Wong), Steve (Benvenuto) and I are pretty good friends. Jay and I grew up at the same club, Courtside Club in Los Gatos. We've been battling back and forth since we were 11 to 12 years old. Now we've pushed ourselves to the next level."

"The best is yet to come for Brian Brogan," Husack said. "The results have been tremendous and he can get better. Brian is like the mayor of the South Bay, a nice likable kid who knows everyone. He's phenomenal and can do a lot of things."

Wong, a freshman, attended Archbishop Mitty for two years and won the 2004 Central Coast Section individual title. He was ranked No. 7 in Boys 16s in 2005 and No. 4 in Boys 16s in 2004. He competed internationally while doing home schooling for a couple years and is now back in the Santa Clara Valley. Against BYU this week, he competed in the No. 3 singles slot and paired with Brogan in doubles.

"It's definitely a plus playing close to home," Wong said. "I know a lot of people on the team. I played with these guys in juniors. Now it's one level higher. And in the next two years to come, it will definitely keep getting better."

"Jay was the top player in Northern California in Juniors," Husack said. "He played internationally and now he's back to the team and to the family. He has great explosiveness with his forehand and has a great ability to take balls early."

Benvenuto, also a freshman, won the 2005 and 2006 CCS singles titles and was ranked No. 14 in Boys 18s doubles and in the Top 100 in singles.

"I knew Santa Clara was close to home, had a great coach and a really good team," he said. "I do go home to visit friends and family and my friends try to come to my matches."

"I expect a lot of great things from Steve," Husack said. "He's 6-foot-2 and it's all about his serve, his forehand and his power."

Shields, a junior, led the parade of local prep stars to Santa Clara. He earned a No. 83 ranking in Boys 16s and No. 58 in Boys 14s.

"To get these guys, Blaine was the first out of that group," Husack. "He has been a big asset. He's good at attacking and finishing at the net. He has a very aggressive game. He is like 9-0 at No. 5 or No. 6 singles and unbelievable in doubles."

The victory over BYU followed one day after the Cougars defeated Stanford in Palo Alto. Santa Clara had its own match scheduled against the Cardinal earlier this season but it was rained out and has been rescheduled for April 4.

"Our season goal is to get a team ranking, play for the title at the WCC championships and make the NCAA regionals, which we've never done." Husack said. "It's especially fun to share it with the local community."