Tennis an escape from cystic fibrosis for Belmonte
When the pressure's on, junior Will Belmonte has become "Mr. Reliable" for the Lake Park boys tennis team.
But Belmonte is used to dealing with high pressure situations. He has been battling cystic fibrosis since he was 10 years old.
"Several meets have come down to the results of Will's match," said Lake Park coach Tim Martin. "And Will and his (doubles) partner (often senior Umair Faizuddin) usually step up to get us the deciding point, especially in three-set matches. There's no indication when you watch Will play that he has cystic fibrosis. He covers the court really well and his game is taking off this year. And he really delivers in the clutch."
"I love the big moments in a match," Belmonte added. "When it's late in the game or in the third set, I love to come up with the clutch shot. I try not to bring up the CF. I just focus on having a good time, try to keep my spirits up and do my best for the team."
In order to live the normal life of a high school student and athlete, Belmonte goes through a one-hour routine before leaving for school and takes a number of medications to fight CF, a genetic disease that affects the lungs and the digestive system.
"One reaction to CF is that I get out of breath and I sweat a lot," Belmonte said. "I have to take frequent water breaks to keep from getting dehydrated."
In order to help find a cure for CF, which affects about 30,000 children and adults in the United States, Will has founded the Will B Foundation (Willbfoundation.com).
"We've raised about a half-million dollars for research to help beat it," Belmonte said. "We've organized CF walks and a golf outing to contribute to the work that's already been done. There has been some progress in recent years in fighting this disorder."
In the meantime Belmonte, whom Martin calls the most improved player on the team in this his first year on varsity, marvels at Belmonte's courage and his athletic ability.
"He's an inspiration to us every day," Martin said. "His game is really taking off. He has developed a nice serve and he's really strong at the net in doubles."
"Tennis is my passion," Belmonte said. "Playing on varsity is a goal I set, and I accomplished it. You can't just give up. You have to keep fighting and grinding and staying positive. Those late-match victories are really confidence boosters for me."
One of Will's biggest supporters is his twin sister, Alexis, who qualified for state last fall as a member of the Lake Park girls team and serves as a manager for the boys team.
"We hang out together," Will said. "And we play a lot of tennis together."
With the postseason just around the corner, Benet's season, which is in its first year as a Class 1A team, is going in the right direction according to Benet coach Michael Hand.
One big reason is the play of first-singles player Patrick McGuigan.
Last year McGuigan teamed with doubles partner Jack Carroll and finished in the top eight at the state tournament. Since then Carroll moved out of state. But instead of finding a new partner, the senior decided to go solo this year.
"Patrick worked really hard in the off-season," Hand said. "He's got both a great forehand and backhand. He has tennis intelligence and that's innate. He knows the game well enough to adjust to the opponent and to the match conditions to do the things he needs to do in order to win. That's something that did not show itself as much in doubles. In singles you see it more because there are longer points."
McGuigan is 22-4 at singles this season.
"Patrick is having fun his senior season," Hand said. "He's in the mix as one of those people you have to think seriously about who can win a state championship."
Growing his game:
Waubonsie Valley's Anthony Nguyen is a year older and his game has matured a great deal since last year.
The Warriors junior and two-time state qualifier counts his only losses to top-level players and he's hoping to get a 9-16 seed later this month when the state seedings are announced.
"Anthony is a lot tougher mentally this year," said Waubonsie Valley coach Phil Galow. "He still has slow starts, but he's had strong second and third sets. He's handled the pressure a lot better."
Galow said Nguyen is creating points a lot better this year.
Instead of beating his opponent with his speed and power, he's staying aggressive and winning more points off his serve.
"He's added a little topspin so a higher percentage of his shots are clearing the net," Galow said. "He's doing a great job of handling the pressure when he gets down, and he bounces back right away. He's not fighting himself as much and he's not as animated on the court as much this year.
"Of course we would like him to cut down the wear-and-tear by winning more two-set matches. But the long matches should make him battle-tested by sectionals. I would like to see him get a good seed and be playing late Friday and early Saturday at state."