PHOTO GALLERY: Lely’s boys tennis primed for competition

Lely boys tennis coach Daniel Johnson is always enthusiastic, always optimistic.

This season he has good reason.

He has a boys team brimming with potential and a team leader who is working hard to make sure everyone gives their best.

So far it has translated into two season-opening wins. Palmetto Ridge and Golden Gate Charter aren’t exactly household tennis school names, but wins nonetheless and shutouts in both matches.

Johnson said the team felt the loss of highly-touted junior Matt Browne, who transferred to a private school, Kentucky Country Day, in Louisville. Browne said he made the change more for academics than tennis as he would like to go to Yale Univsersity.

“The departure of Matt Browne sent shock waves through our team,” Johnson said. “Matt is a first-rate winner in the classroom as well as on the tennis court and we knew there would no one who could fill his shoes in the same way.”

But senior captain Zak Rabani is determined to see his high school career end on a very positive note.

“Zak has stepped up absolutely huge, assuming a pivotal leadership role with the younger players, beginning with off-season conditioning workouts,” Johnson said. “Through Zak’s leadership and fire we were able to give shape to our extremely young team and find many reasons for optimism.”

Rabani has won his singles and doubles matches, teaming with freshman Juan Serna in No. 1 doubles.

Just watching the doubles match it was evident Rabani was the leader and the one to keep his team going in a positive direction. However, for a freshman, Serna is no slouch.

“Juan is going to be a monster,” Rabani said. “We have a number of super young players, many freshman, who are all working hard this season and will be our strength in the coming seasons.”

With those freshman are returners Trevor Conte, Matt Benito and Alex Bedolla, all juniors. Conte plays No. 2 singles and Benito No. 4. Bedolla can be used in singles or doubles.

The freshmen are John Hoenig, Areeb Chaundhry, Eli Smith, Gage Daly and Sean Linardich, with some having been coached by Marco’s Doug Browne, tennis professional at Hideaway Beach.

In Johnson’s fifth season, he expects that his team will have more depth than in past years, and will easily outdo last year’s 10-7 record.

“I know we can be district champions again,” he said. “We have a bunch of young guys, mixed with guys who have been in the wars. I am eager to see all of them show their talents.”

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