APTOS — Soquel High tennis standout Jack Van Ness, robbed of his freshman campaign by the COVID-19 pandemic and sophomore season by an ankle injury, finally got his day in the sun.
Van Ness, a junior, unseated Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champion Koosha Safari, a sophomore at Aptos, 7-6 (7-2), 6-1, in the singles final at Seascape Sports Club on Wednesday.
It was the third time this season the training partners squared off, and the third straight win for Van Ness, who went unbeaten during the regular season. It also ended a nine-year run of champions who hailed from either Aptos or Santa Cruz highs.
“It felt nice,” Van Ness said. “I was relieved when I finally got across the finish line.”
Excuse the metaphor, but Van Ness does a lot of running in his free time, including running those dreaded steps at Depot Hill in Capitola at least once a week. Such aerobic activity means opponents rarely hit winners on him — he covers that much territory on the court.
“Jack’s just another level,” Knights coach Jonathan Haire said. “He’s so dedicated. You do not have to tell him to train, he trains on his own from him. The thing that makes him the best is that he wants it more than other people do. He wakes up and thinks training.”
Van Ness knows his running paid dividends on the court, even more so than his big first serve, solid forehand and two-handed backhand. “I believe so,” he said.
“Jack’s a machine,” Haire said. “When he shows up at practice, the kids get excited. He’s like a rockstar showing up, and he’s a good kid.”
His teammates do their best to emulate their teammate. Van Ness sometimes pulls the sleeves on his shirt over his shoulders when he plays, not to show off his biceps, just because of him. And that means the rest of the Knights follow suit.
“They’ll say, ‘Look like Jack, play like Jack,’ ” said Haire, chuckling.
“He looks like a man. His legs look like a grown man’s legs. He stands out in the team photo because all the others have toothpick legs.”
Van Ness’ legs, as well as his solid groundstrokes, will see how far they can take him in the Central Coast Section Singles and Doubles Championships on May 16-17 at Imperial Courts Tennis Club in Aptos.
“I’m going to keep working hard and hope I do well there,” Van Ness said.
Van Ness, a three-star recruit ranked No. 78 in California for Class of 2023 players, has tennis in his blood. His father, David, is an instructor at Imperial Courts and coaches the men’s and women’s teams at Cabrillo College. His mother, Melissa (Gurney), competed professionally on the WTA and was ranked as high as No. 17 in the world on March 30, 1987.
Van Ness didn’t drop a game in reaching the final. Neither did Safari. In the quarterfinals Tuesday, Van Ness beat Jonah Westberg of SLV and Safari beat Henry Spitzer of Scotts Valley. In the semifinals, Van Ness beat Aptos’ Heath Hegna, and Safari beat teammate Aaron Buchanan.
Interim Aptos coach Sam Brown said he’ll apply for an at-large berth for Safari for CCS.
Joining Van Ness at CCS is Aptos’ John McGowan and Bennett Biscotti, the newly crowned SCCAL doubles champions. They knocked off Soquel’s Aidan Guard and Benjamin Bolito, 6-2, 6-7 (9-11), 6-2 in front of nearly 50 fans in the final.
It was a repeat win for Biscotti, who teamed up with McGowan’s older brother, Matthew, to win the title in 2021. It was also the sixth straight season that Aptos has won the doubles title.
The teammates will also compete with Aptos in the CCS Team Tournament on Wednesday, a reward for the Mariners’ winning their fifth straight SCCAL title.
Biscotti, a senior, played No. 2 singles all season. McGowan, a sophomore, primarily played at No. 1 doubles, but moved into singles action when Brown sat some of his top players on him.
Brown said his doubles team kept with their strategy in claiming the first set: Protect their serve, don’t go big, hit groundstrokes and play conservative at the net. And it paid off.
Up 2-0 in the second set, things slowly unraveled when Soquel’s Guard and Bolito fought back into the match. Aptos had two match points in the second set, but it was ultimately settled by a lengthy tiebreaker. Soquel prevailed 11-9 to force a third set.
Brown took full advantage of the five-minute break between sets, though his players wanted to quickly return to the court. It was then that he told them to hit the proverbial “reset” button. And he offered a bit of advice, “Have fun, I want to see smiles on your faces.”
The breather paid off. Aptos jumped out to a 4-0 lead before dropping a pair of games and then closed out the set and match.
McGowan and Biscotti beat San Lorenzo Valley’s Brian McIvor and Dylan Deguera 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinals, and Aptos’ Andrew Morrissey and Jack Eldredge 6-0, 6-4 in the semifinals.
Soquel’s Guard and Bolito reached the final by knocking off Santa Cruz’s Julian Arulanantham and Will Sommer 6-0, 6-1 in the first round, and Soquel’s Jayden Doyle and Matt Levie 6-4, 6-0 in the semifinals.
Singles: Jack Van Ness (Soquel), Jr., def. Koosha Safari (Aptos), So., 7-6 (7-2), 6-1
Doubles: John McGowan and Bennett Biscotti (Apts) def. Aidan Guard and Benjamin Bolito (Soquel), 6-2, 6-7 (9-11), 6-2