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Merced High tennis' Rabago chasing down the competition

Hadrien Demarcin's return to Belgium after his senior year left the Merced boys tennis team with a gaping hole at its No. 1 singles spot.

The hole was still there at the start of the spring season.

Despite Merced returning all but three players, no clear-cut candidate emerged.

With no obvious heir apparent, Merced coaches Keith Tetangco and Judy Douglas decided to let their players battle it out.

Newcomer Adam Rabago took advantage.

With no varsity tennis experience, the sophomore wasn't really in the running for the No. 1 spot -- but his performances grabbed his coaches' attention.

"Even though Adam didn't have any varsity experience, I always kept him in the back of my head because some of our returners were a little inconsistent," Tetangco said.

"(Adam) stepped it up against one of the guys I thought was going to be our No. 1 or 2, and then did it against another guy we were looking at.

"After that, he was our No. 1 the whole year."

Rabago embraced the challenge, using his tenacity to compete with the top players in the Central California Conference.

He compiled a very respectable 7-5 record in his first year of varsity tennis and earned the No. 3 seed for the CCC championship.

Rabago reached the semifinals, where he lost to Pitman's Doug Chesney.

For his efforts, Rabago is the Sun-Star's Boys Tennis Player of the Year.

"It was my first year playing varsity," Rabago said. "I didn't think I'd have a winning record.

"My goal was to go .500 and I finished 7-5."

Rabago's fitness level helped put him over the top.

Still in fine form after playing soccer in the fall, Rabago used his conditioning to wear down opponents.

What he lacked in all-around tennis ability, he made up for with hustle.

"He really bothers opponents because he runs so many balls down," Douglas said. "He's a little of a late starter as far as tennis goes, but he's very steady and really improved a lot over the course of the year."

Tetangco appreciated Rabago's athletic ability, but it was the sophomore's intangibles that made him a No. 1.

"Adam's calm, pretty reserved. He doesn't really give you a lot (of emotion)," Tetangco said. "It's one of the things I really liked.

"We have other guys who always let you know how they're feeling, good or bad.

"Adam gives nothing away."

Douglas said Rabago's poker face served him well this season.

"The second your opponent knows he's got you upset, they usually exploit it," Douglas said. "That fact that you can't rattle Adam throws his opponents off."

With natural athletic ability, a good mental makeup and two years left in front of him, Rabago's future certainly appears bright.

"I gained a lot of experience (this year)," Rabago said. "I feel my game still needs improvement and I need to add more strategies.

"I need to attack the ball more often. I need to be more aggressive with my serve.

"I need more power in my shot."

Tetangco said Rabago is going to use the summer to develop a weapon.

"It's one of the things that could have made a difference against the two Turlock kids," Tetangco said. "He already has a really deceptive forehand.

"It's tough for his opponents to read.

"If he can add to that, he has the potential to be the CCC champion."

Not bad for a guy with no varsity experience.