Grafton's Yakov Diskin, the Daily Press boys tennis Player of the Year, is a season ahead of schedule.
According to prevailing wisdom, he would have an excellent chance to win the state Group AA boys tennis championship as a junior ... next year.
For much of this season, it seemed that theory was accurate. As he did last year, Diskin handled all of his Bay Rivers District opponents in the regular season except a powerful senior from York: last year it was David Ancarrow, this year it was Peter Szewczyk.
Diskin, who had lost to Ancarrow in the 2003 district and Region I championship matches, was trailing Szewczyk 6-4, 2-0 in the 2004 Bay Rivers final. But Diskin came back in that set, and from 4-1 behind in the third, for a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 triumph.
"I was always intimidated by how hard he hit the ball," Diskin said of Szewczyk. "I definitely gained a lot of confidence."
They played again a week later for the regional title. Diskin won 6-2, 6-2 as he belted service winners and Szewczyk appeared rattled.
That made Diskin the first Clipper, male or female, to qualify for state in tennis. And he didn't squander the opportunity, outlasting Handley senior Brad Stillwagon 7-6 (10-8), 1-6, 6-4 in a semifinal and breezing past Hidden Valley's Luke Wray 6-0, 6-2 in the final. That made Diskin the first male Bay Rivers player to win the state singles since York's Carl Maymi in 1995.
"His mental toughness is amazing," Grafton coach Jane Winner said.
Born in Russia, Diskin grew up in Israel before his father, Boris, became a NASA scientist five years ago and moved the family to the Peninsula.
Modest and soft-spoken but confident, Diskin always has had the smarts to excel in the classroom and tennis. What Diskin hadn't had, until now, is the power to gain cheap points against quality opposition.
"My serve was a big factor," he said.
If his good fortune continues, Diskin could tie the AA record of three singles championships. He and classmate Bryan Wang, this year's regional runners-up, should contend for the doubles title.
Diskin's rankings in U.S. Tennis Association play, which college coaches usually notice more than high school results, raise eyebrows too. Having turned 15 in May, he left the 14-and-under division as the state's top player.
Brad Corbin Hampton Roads Academy, junior In his first year living in Williamsburg after his family moved from Connecticut, Corbin immediately went to the No. 1 spot on the Peninsula's best team. The powerful baseliner finished second in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools tournament's No. 1 flight to Norfolk Academy's Andy Downing, defeated Grafton ace Yakov Diskin and helped the Navigators end a Norfolk Academy TCIS winning streak that lasted 18 years.
Bart Grover Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, freshman The youngest player in Suffolk's "first family" of tennis finished third in the TCIS top flight in his first season as the Saints' No. 1. Good variety and solid shotmaking are hallmarks of his game. Like Corbin, he was first-team all-TCIS.
Martin King Kecoughtan, senior Thanks in part to a powerful serve and wicked forehand, he won the Peninsula District tournament and went unbeaten in league play, both for the third consecutive year. Then he did something no PD player had accomplished in 11 years by reaching the Eastern Region final, thus qualifying for the state Group AAA singles quarterfinals. He led the Warriors to an 8-2 team record. He is bound for New Mexico Military Institute and perhaps the U.S. Military Academy after that.
Peter Szewczyk York, senior The area's most powerful high school player carried York to the Bay Rivers District and Region I team championships en route to the state semifinals. He was unbeaten in the regular season and was runner-up in the BRD and regional singles tourneys to Yakov Diskin. Szewczyk will walk on to the William and Mary team in the fall.
Blair Marsteller Hampton Roads Academy, junior Upon Corbin's arrival, Marsteller, from Newport News, dropped to the Nos. 2 and 3 spots among the Navigators, but he improved his game. His 10-2 victory at No. 3 over Adam Wong was instrumental in HRA's historic 5-4 triumph over Norfolk Academy and unbeaten regular season. In the TCIS tournament, Marsteller placed second in the No. 2 flight, falling in a 6-4 third set to Norfolk Academy's Sandy McKinnon.
DOUBLES FIRST TEAM Brad Corbin and Blair Marsteller Hampton Roads Academy In their first year as a tandem, they were second to Norfolk Academy in the regular season and in the TCIS tournament's top flight. They handled everybody else in their path, including some tough foes from South Hampton Roads. They probably will be favored to win the conference next season.
Martin King and Khoa Le, junior Kecoughtan After an outstanding regular season, they won the Peninsula District tournament and advanced to the Eastern Region quarterfinals before losing to a Cox duo. It was King's second district doubles title and Le's first. Their regular-season efforts were instrumental in the Warriors' 8-2 record.
Peter Szewczyk and Brian Tai, senior ,York These 12th-graders played together only sporadically during the regular season, but coach Jose' Erfe's decision to put them together for the postseason paid off. They won the Bay Rivers District and Region I doubles crowns, led York to the regional team title and advanced to the state Group AA semifinals before losing a third-set tiebreak 8-6 to a Handley pair.
SINGLES SECOND TEAM Bobby Barrett, Bethel, senior. John Braig, Jamestown, junior. Jason Dunn, Hampton Roads Academy, junior. Raj Gill, Hampton Roads Ac., junior. Adi Shetty, Tabb, freshman. Andrew Thompson, Lafayette, senior.
DOUBLES SECOND TEAM Raj Gill and Jason Dunn, Hampton Roads Academy. Yakov Diskin, sophomore, and Bryan Wang, sophomore, Grafton. John Braig and Jacob Braig, sophomore, Jamestown.
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