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2015 Boys tennis player of the year: Reese Stalder, Newport Harbor
It was as disheartening to watch as it was stomach-churning at the time.
As a junior last season, Newport Harbor’s Reese Stalder was serving for a spot in the semifinals of the CIF-SS Individual Championships when cramping in his left quad became unbearable.
He managed to play on despite the pain, but he dropped a three-set heartbreaker to the eventual CIF champion.
“It’s a bummer for any competitor when something that’s out of your control takes over,” Newport Harbor coach Kristen Case said. “You got to work with what you got. And for Reese, I think it was just another experience to learn from.”
Very little went wrong for Stalder in his senior campaign. The five-star recruit put an exclamation point on his high school career with All-American honors, a Sunset League singles championship and a 68-1 record to go along with his runner-up finish in the CIF Individual Championships.
Stalder, who signed with TCU, has also been selected the Register’s boys tennis player of the year.
“Looking back, I wish I could have that final match back, or at least the last set,” Stalder said, referring to his one loss of the season, which came Saturday in the CIF-SS singles final. “But it doesn’t take away from a great year. I was able to win league and had a lot of fun with the guys on the team. There definitely were some things to be proud of.”
Entering the championship match at the CIF-SS Individual finals, Stalder had not dropped a set this season. He had gone unscathed in the Sunset League, which boasted some of the area’s top singles players in Riley Smith (Los Alamitos), Max Cancilla (Marina), Vatsal Bajpai (Los Alamitos), Brendan Barr (Marina) and George Cooper (Los Alamitos).
“I was lucky in the sense that our league had a lot of really good players,” Stalder said. “So I was able to get a ton of good sets in.”
Stalder spent the season seeking out tough challenges. Rather than enter the prestigious Ojai Tournament as one of the favorites in the CIF bracket, he chose to play in Ojai’s Mens Open Division, battling professionals as opposed to fellow teenagers.
“The junior tournaments are great, but I’m basically playing the same guys all the time,” Stalder remarked. “I wanted to play different people and different styles. And when I’m playing grown men, they’re hitting the ball big. It’s getting myself ready for college more than anything.”
The only two sets Stalder dropped all year were in his final high school match, against Palos Verdes’ Brandon Holt in the CIF singles finale.
The two highly touted players split the first two sets, before Holt grabbed the singles crown with a 6-1 win in the deciding set.
At the match’s conclusion, Stalder was met by Newport Harbor’s entire tennis program – boys and girls players – who offered up their congratulations on what was the final chapter of a stellar prep career.
“You really don’t get to see something like this happen very often,” Case said of Stalder’s accomplishments. “You just have to take it all in. Reese is definitely a role model for the other players, and hopefully they recognize how special what he did is.”
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