By Moses Leos III
Seniors Kali Palomarez, Nick Spurk and Nariko Nakachi were in middle school when the Lehman High tennis team last defeated Hays.
Over a four-week span, the trio, along with their Lehman Lobo teammates, changed that trend by recording two wins over the Rebels. It marked the first time since 2011 that the Lobos defeated their cross-town rivals.
The second win came Monday as the Lobos defeated Hays 10-4 in the district quarterfinal.
And while the Lobos’ team season ended Tuesday, they understood how their success helped place Lobo tennis back in the radar of their classmates.
“You can see it in the school. It’s an awesome thing,” Palomarez said. “People are wearing our shirts now, people are talking about tennis…It’s an awesome thing.”
A “good mix of seniority and youthful exuberance” is how head coach Orlando De La Fuente described his team, which finished with a 10-4 overall record.
He said many of the students have put in a lot of time into their craft, and that it’s shown on the court.
While there are talented players, he also said the upperclassmen have helped set the example.
“They see the older kids put time in and working, and trying to get better,” De La Fuente said. “They want to achieve that and that, in turn, makes the whole team better.”
Enjoying the success of defeating Hays is something he said was “nice for the kids.” But for De La Fuente, getting a win was more important. He also stressed the camaraderie the team has with Hays.
“Of course it’s nice to win against Hays, but we have a nice relationship (with Hays) and we always have and we always will as long as I’m here.”
For Nakachi, the amount of time players have put into tennis outside of practice has changed.
“This year’s group of kids are dedicated to the sport, you can see it in our overall record. We’ve been just pushing it and making ourselves better,” she said. “We’re always asking our coach, even while we’re playing, ‘what can we do to make us better?”
But De La Fuente has also seen how the team has slowly gained popularity. He also understands that tennis may not be as “glorious” as some of the other sports, such as football, baseball and softball.
Spurk said it’s given the team the chance to let the school know they exist.
“It’s for us to come out and show that we’re made of something, and that people don’t forget about us,” he said. “And to let the school know that we’re here and we want to represent the school.”
The trio, along with their teammates, begin to prepare for the individual tennis season, which Palomarez said was a “different mentality.”
But the chance to advance one round in the postseason was meaningful to the group.
“A lot of us have been playing on the team for a while now, almost three or four years,” Nakachi said. “It’s nice to see the team grow.”