Kickin' It on the courts

It's not that Yann Libbrecht is selfish when it comes to selecting his sports, the Enochs High senior just likes the idea of determining his fate.

"I (was) an avid soccer player most of my life, but I grew bored," Libbrecht says. "It was time for something new.

"Tennis caught my attention because it is somewhat of an individual sport, unlike soccer. I enjoyed the feeling of improving my game and winning on my own terms."

Libbrecht spent a few years knocking tennis balls around before getting serious in his sophomore year, and that decision is looking pretty good.

He will battle for the Modesto Metro Conference singles championship today when he faces Modesto's Bijan Origel at noon at the Brenda Athletic Club. Both players will advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 Tournament.

Unlike many of his foes, Libbrecht lacks a signature shot that he can turn to in times of desperation. That can be seen as a positive or negative, but Libbrecht sees lots of upside.

"As for my style, I like to hit winners and go for my forehand," says Libbrecht, who believes his forehand is as close as he gets to a go-to shot.

Libbrecht has acquired the pieces of his game from three coaches — Enochs' Rod Niles, as well as club coaches Brian Heiser and Mark Fairchilds. He worked with Heiser as a sophomore, with a goal of improving his ground strokes and mental approach. When Libbrecht decided to expand his game, he switched to Fairchilds — who wasted no time telling Libbrecht the truth.

"Mark made me realize that I still had tons to improve," says Libbrecht, a bit sheepish over the reality check. "Strategy, volleying, serving ... my backhand. I owe a lot to both coaches, as they have both improved my game drastically."

Now, Niles is pushing Libbrecht in practice and during matches, reminding his No. 1 singles player to mix his shot selection and hit the winners: "He has taught me (to stay) focused on crucial points and the importance of being patient," says Libbrecht, whose lone loss this season was 4-6, 2-6 to Origel.

Libbrecht avenged that loss by reversing the scores for a 6-4, 6-2 win over the Panthers' ace — and then Libbrecht beat his rival a second time.

This will likely be one of Libbrecht's final matches in a school uniform: He will study nursing at CSU Stanislaus in the fall, and the Warriors don't offer men's tennis.

The priority is always academics over athletics, Libbrecht says, so CSU Stanislaus was a logical choice. He's carried a B average while taking Advanced Placement biology, U.S. government and politics, and English, as well as other courses focused on nursing.

"I decided to (go) into nursing because it seemed like a good opportunity and an exciting occupation," he says.

He will continue to compete in regional tourneys — he already has won three U.S. Tennis Association challenger events — but it won't be the same without school colors.

"As a senior, this season is probably the most important to me," says Libbrecht, who failed to reach the MMC singles final last year but did get to the section doubles semifinals with Taylor Wright. "I would like to win the MMC singles tournament."