Omaha Bryan won’t be found on any preseason lists as favorites to win a state tennis title.
That honor belongs to the usual suspects — Omaha Creighton Prep, Omaha Westside, Lincoln Southeast and Lincoln Southwest in Class A and Lincoln Pius X, Omaha Skutt, Elkhorn South and Grand Island Central Catholic in Class B.
Still, Bryan coach Ricardo Hernandez says the Bears, who won just two matches last year, are ready to take off. He thinks they could win 80 percent of their matches.
“We’re going to do a heck of a lot better than last year,’’ he said. “I think we can be a heck of a lot more competitive.’’
His 13 players, many of whom are standouts in other sports, are injecting some fire in the program. Hernandez said they fight for every point and love to practice.
Most important, they’re gaining confidence.
“It’s somewhat contagious,’’ Hernandez said. “When one guy becomes more confident, their friends feel more confident as well.’’
Many years, Hernandez’s roster was dominated with boys who had never played the sport.
This season, for the first time, he has two seniors who’ve played four years. Cousins Grant and Christian Cannon, nephews of former basketball coach Tim Cannon, are strong, accurate and confident, the coach said, and likely will be two of his top players.
Juniors Luke Doyle and Joel Wagman have built their technique to the point where they’re willing to take more chances.
Hernandez also likes what he’s seen from Omar Martinez, a hard worker who has quickly picked up the game, and Dallas Hixson, who is all over the court fighting for every ball.
“He just cuts it loose. His game is amazing,’’ Hernandez said. “He will do anything for a point. He’ll run all the way to Texas.’’
The junior varsity is still relatively inexperienced, but those players are the base for the program Hernandez is trying to build. He wants to teach his players to win, but he also wants to give them the skills and techniques that they can use for a lifetime.
“This is something they can play and keep themselves healthy their whole lives,’’ he said.
Hernandez is starting to break through the barrier of athletes being afraid to try a new sport. He’s done that by keeping practices fun while they learn, and players on the team have been spreading the word.
They play all kinds of games that the players love but that also teach them footwork, keeping their focus on the ball, a soft touch and how to play at the net.
Hernandez has the players who can advance deeper at the Metro meet, but he’s looking for more.
“At this point, my goal is to have at least one player make it through the first or second level at state,’’ he said. “A couple of my players, they are confident enough. They don’t care who they play. They do like to play hard.’’