Armando Rodriguez wears the prestige of his successful prep tennis career like battle scars across his face.
The Riverbank High senior has tangled with some of the best racketeers in the area, enjoyed the company of some talented teammates and already accomplished a near-impossible feat — conquered Escalon.
The Bruin talent stunned Escalon’s top singles player, Zach Mando, with a 6-2, 6-1 victory amidst an 8-1 team defeat to the highly-touted Cougars on March 15.
Rodriguez was a standout soccer player for the SJS runner-up Bruins in the fall, but perhaps the greatest talent extends from his small and lean frame on the green court. He joined stellar teammate and Bruin graduate, Eric Hernandez, on the Trans-Valley League-champion doubles team in 2012. The tandem got the better of Escalon’s Mando and Rafael Felix, who went on to claim the SJS doubles title.
The Cougars were runner-ups in the 2012 team playoffs, but return six tennis players who made the individual postseason. The same Escalon program that landed three individual section champions in 2012 could be even better this year.
“We had some bright spots, but (Escalon) got another good foreign exchange student (Alex Sjoling) and a freshman girl (Taylor Laugero) who is quite an experienced player and hits harder than most of the boys,” Riverbank coach Bruce Edwards said. “Escalon dominated us.”
Escalon’s strength makes Rodriguez’ victory over a reigning section title holder quite impressive.
The senior also won his doubles division with teammate Javier Baltazar during Riverbank’s host tournament. Their effort led Riverbank to an overall division win for the first time in five years. Juan Alfaro and Ernie Velasco were also victors in No. 2 doubles while Carlos Martinez and Linda Erazo won the mixed doubles group.
Edwards said he considers Rodriguez a favorite to claim the ultra-competitive singles championship from the conference this year. He attributes this to a combination of experience and athleticism that made Rodriguez a fierce tandem with Hernandez in 2012.
Riverbank has a hoard of freshmen on their 29-deep roster, and will need the fresh bodies to replace a lineup that will graduate nine of the 14 starters.
“As far as newcomers, no one has impressed me to the point that (they) should be a starter,” Edwards said. “The young players are learning, but it takes quite a bit of time to become good enough to compete at the varsity level.”
The Bruins hosted Modesto Christian on Tuesday, but results were not available at press time. The squad is at Ripon for a pivotal conference showdown on Friday.