Luther Bohanan likes to say there are those who play tennis, and those who play at tennis.
Those who play at tennis, the Coronado boys tennis coach explained, are the kids who come out for the team for the social aspect of it. They play casually.
Those who play tennis are the ones who have legitimate reason to believe they can win the state championship when the postseason begins. His Cougars plan to “play tennis” beginning Thursday in the Class 4A Sunrise Region quarterfinal against Eldorado at 3 p.m. The Sunset and Class 3A Southern Region tournaments also begin Thursday at host sites.
“This game’s not easy,” Bohanan said. “When you run up against people who can play tennis, you can see what level you’re at.”
Bohanan’s team is full of people who play tennis. The Cougars have reached the state playoffs in all 10 of his season as coach, and this year they are led by seniors Martin Rizov and Wesley Harris. Rizov has never played singles in the playoffs, and made the quarterfinals in doubles at state in 2014. Harris competed at state in singles last season.
Rizov, Harris and the Cougars rolled through the 2016 regular season with a 13-1 record. But as good as that is, it won’t mean much once the postseason starts. Only four times all season did Coronado play a team ranked inside the top five, and two of those were league games against No. 5 Green Valley.
“The competition really isn’t there (in the regular season),” Rizov said. “When we really get to regionals, then even state, the jump between the competition is really high.”
At the Class 4A level, Bishop Gorman won the state title last year and is ranked second in the Southern Nevada Tennis Coaches Poll. The Gaels were joined in the final four of last year’s tournament by Palo Verde, Coronado and Reno, with the two Las Vegas-area schools ranking first and third, respectively, in this week’s poll.
It would not be a surprise to see Gorman, Palo Verde and Coronado back in the state semifinals, but a new challenger approaches in 2016. No. 4 Clark, after dominating at the I-A (now Class 3A) level for years, joined Class 4A this season.
Clark may be ranked below Coronado in this week’s poll, but Bohanan does not take them lightly. He scheduled the Chargers for the last week of the regular season intentionally, so that the Cougars could see Clark up close before postseason began, particularly two-time defending I-A individual state singles champion Michael Pasimio and his brother Marcus.
“Really see exactly who we can look forward to playing, because in the state finals, it comes down to the two best teams,” Harris said. “If we start playing one of the better teams right now, it’s good to expose us to the better players.”
Coronado has come close the past few years but has not won the big one. For Harris and Rizov, this year is their last chance.
“Winning a state championship title before you head off to whatever you plan on doing later, it’s just a really good note to end on after spending four years of your life basically with the same team,” Harris said. “It’s just a good way to end it.”
Justin Emerson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @J15Emerson