DURHAM – Mike Pare likes to test his players.
The Oyster River High School boys tennis coach tries to give them different experiences that will take them out of their comfort zone and put more pressure on them to perform.
Leo Li found himself in such a situation during Thursday’s match against Sanborn at the Woodridge Park courts. Although the junior typically plays at No. 5 singles, he moved up to No. 2 and responded to the challenge by erasing a late deficit.
“I think at that point I was losing faith in myself but I think I got it together and pulled through,” Li said. “I started believing in myself more. I was just trying to keep it in play and hoping he would mess up and I think that’s what ended up happening.”
Trailing 6-7, Li won three straight games to rally for a 9-7 win as part of the Bobcats’ 9-0 sweep that kept their unblemished record intact. Oyster River improved to 10-0 with two matches left in the regular season.
“When I made it 7-all that was the point where I think I got it together and had it in my head that I was going to win,” Li said.
Li prevailed in the most competitive match of the day against Sanborn’s Owen Paul.
“He likes to outlast players sometimes,” Pare said. “He was just trying to stay in every point from the ones that I saw and trying to find the times to be aggressive.”
After the 2020 spring season had to be canceled because of the pandemic the Bobcats returned this year with an all-new top six singles lineup including two who are first-year varsity players: sophomore John Henry and freshman James Li, who won his match Thursday at No. 3 singles, 8-3, after moving up three spots from No. 6.
“It’s a fun, young group,” Pare said. “They all love the game of tennis. A lot of them are first-sport athletes playing tennis. They come to practice every day ready to learn, ready to have fun, ready to compete and it really shows.”
Henry teamed with sophomore Siddhu Srivatsan for an 8-1 win at first doubles while at second doubles Leo Li and sophomore Shashu Srivatsan paired for an 8-3 triumph.
“I think we’ve been doing beyond my expectations for the most part,” said junior co-captain Ben Montgomery. “I think we’re really good at our singles play and our doubles play, we’ve been developing more and more.”
Henry prevailed at No. 1 singles over Sanborn’s Drew Fontaine, 8-3, as did junior co-captain Aidan O’Connell at No. 4 (8-3), Josh Nicols at No. 5 (8-0) and Frank Guo at No. 6 (8-6). Montgomery and Josh Nicols were 8-0 winners at third doubles.
“I didn’t actually have any expectations for this year,” O’Connell said. “I knew Ben was playing but I didn’t know anybody else. The fact that we’ve done so good is huge.”
“I knew this would be a fun group,” Pare said. “I knew they had to build some match experience which luckily we’ve been able to do.”
The Bobcats have four wins over Division I teams so far this season.
“Mixing in Division I matches we had no expectations because we didn’t know what the competition would be looking like,” Pare said.
“My expectations were it would be like a mediocre season but here we are, undefeated,” Montgomery said. “I really had no idea going into the season how we’d do but I’m proud of the team so far.”
Oyster River visits Division I Dover on Friday and hosts Division II Portsmouth — which captured the 2019 title — a week from Friday in its regular season finale.
“We’ve had some good matches this year but I think Portsmouth will be a step above what we’ve seen so far,” Pare said. “It will be a nice chance for the kids to see what the next step might look like.”