Ben Wang claims second straight league title in singles, top doubles team of Pascal Hayward and James Sokoloski takes third


Sam Noah

Ben Wang ’23 rises up for a serve in his match for the Tri-Valley League title, which he ended up winning 6-4, 6-0.

Sam Noah, Reporter

Foothill Technology High School’s tennis phenom, Ben Wang ‘23, hit another milestone in a historic season when he secured the top spot in the Tri-Valley League for the second consecutive year. The victory came by way of a 6-4, 6-0 win over Cate School’s Jengus Ercil ‘23. The match on Wednesday, April 27, took just over an hour on the Cate School (Cate) courts as Wang closed out his dominant run through league before CIF play starts next week.

Just across the way, top Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech) doubles team Pascal Hayward ‘23 and James Sokoloski ‘24 battled for third place in the Tri-Valley League in a much closer match against the Thacher School’s Teddy Tracy and Justin Park. As the recently championed Wang cheered from the sidelines, the pair finally captured a triumph of their own with a final score of 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 on a 7-2 win in the tiebreaker of the final set. 

Ercil approaches the net to congratulate Wang at the conclusion of the match. (Sam Noah)

Head Coach Daniel FitzPatrick praised the resilience of his athletes throughout the day and said, “[Ben] stuck to his guns and eventually melted down the other player and pulled out a great victory and James and Pascal likewise.”

Wang, who is committed to play division three tennis at UC Santa Cruz next year, earned the capstone to a nearly perfect league season with the win over Ercil. Coming into league prelims, he had yet to drop a game all year, posting a record of 102-0 against opponents in the regular season. His streak was broken by Felipe Blanco of Cate in the second round of the singles tournament, a set which he took 8-1. His third round match against Dunn School’s Jim Frankie, also on April 25, finished with sets of 6-1, 6-2 to send him to the finals. 

On the other side of the net, Ercil came into the match having only dropped six games in the tournament himself. Although not planning on playing tennis at the collegiate level, he was an all-star for Cate School’s basketball team and will attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. 

The final between the top two seeds began with rare adversity for Wang, who went down 2-1 in games early. A particularly scary moment came in the midst of the second game, when he overextended his left leg and cursed in pain. 

Ercil capitalized on his opponent’s early shakiness, attacking with powerful serves and a strong forehand. The two battled back and forth with roaring displays of intensity after each point. 

Wang broke Ercil in the fifth game to go up 3-2, before the two traded dominant service games until Wang found himself up 5-4 with service. Up 40-30, Wang’s serve to Ercil struck in, but Ercil called the ball out before immediately correcting his mistake and conceding that the ball was in, costing him the point, game and set all at once. 

The senior exhibited obvious frustration at his blunder and never recovered. The first game of the second set ended with consecutive double faults by Ercil and his agitation only increased as Wang took control. 

Ercil gave some insight into his increasing struggles over the course of the game and said, “I had so many deuces and I couldn’t capitalize on any of them and I think that messed with my head. Second set I was just lost a little bit and couldn’t really calm myself down.”

The final shot fell on Ercil’s side of the court and Wang let loose one final cry of triumph before he met his opponent at the net to shake hands.

Wang reflected, “It was nice to win it again, the first set was pretty tight this time, second set cruised through, but it was nice to get back to the top of the division.”

He experienced a quick turnaround when he traveled to the Thacher School to play a first round draw in The Ojai, one of North America’s largest and most prestigious tournaments since 1896. He lost his match to Sean Ferguson ‘23, a commit to California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo, but will look for redemption in both team and individual CIF play.

Pascal Hayward ’23 awaits a serve at the net while his teammate James Sokoloski ’24 is ready to return on the back line. (Sam Noah)

In team competition, he will head a young Foothill Tech team with the help of Hayward and Sokoloski, who lead the doubles crew for the Dragons. 

The two pulled off a signature match for third place, dominating in the first set before having to claw their way back in the third to get it to a tie breaker. Once there, they took turns slamming the ball past their opponents off of lobs near the net and congratulating each other equally emphatically with each volley. 

The most enthusiastic celebration yet came on the final point, when the pair secured third place with a 7-2 tiebreaker in the third set. 

Sokoloski remarked on the play at the net, “We made sure to be really aggressive at the net and have a lot of fun with that.”

Hayward added, “During the second set we realized we were letting off the gas, but the third set we brought it back towards the latter half of it and decided to be aggressive and it paid off for us.”

The three upperclassmen and their team will await their CIF draw, who they will play on Wednesday, May 3. As a program who has experienced plenty of recent prosperity with a CIF championship in 2021, they will look to repeat similar success. 

Wang believes they are ready and gave his team a vote of confidence, “As a team I think we’re equipped to handle any team out there, we just have to go have a good day and everyone has got to be ready.”

What do you think?