Last year as the team’s number two singles player, then-sophomore Teague Hamilton went undefeated during Laguna’s run through CIF, which ended with a finals loss to Viewpoint. This year, Hamilton hopes to lead his team back to the top, and along the way accomplish what only three Laguna Beach High tennis players have done before: win a CIF individual singles title.
Rick Leach did it in 1981 before going on to win five Grand Slam doubles titles as a pro. His brother Jon finished on top in ’89. And Hamilton’s former coach Aaron Talarico won it all in ’98.
After losing two of its top three players to graduation, the Division IV Laguna team has understandably struggled through its typical early season lineup of Division I and II schools. Through last Tuesday, they were 3-6, their only wins coming against league competition.
Hamilton, on the other hand, keeps gaining confidence and respect with each DI opponent he dispatches. Through last Tuesday, his record stood at 12-3, including straight set wins against Newport Harbor, San Clemente and Santa Margarita.
The unassuming junior is nonchalant about his early season success. “I just play my game,” he said.
Head Coach Don Davis isn’t all that surprised by his star player’s dominance so far. “With his ranking, you’d expect him to do well,” he said.
Hamilton is currently 23 in USTA age group rankings in southern California and 198 nationally. His “game” really began to blossom this season after he joined the Woodbridge Tennis Club, where he trades forehands with some of the top players in the country, including number one ranked University standout Gage Brymer. “It’s made a huge difference,” Hamilton said.
In his first year with the boy’s team and second with the girls, Davis made note of Hamilton’s talent while working last summer with his sister Kira, an incoming freshman. “He’s improved a lot fundamentally, besides his physical development,” Davis said.
Hamilton prefers to patrol the baseline and use his strong forehand to keep his opponent off balance. He also relies heavily on his service game. “One of the big areas that’s probably improved is his first serve,” said Davis.
Inspired by his tennis-loving parents, Hamilton began working with a personal coach and playing competitively at age 10. He and Kira sometimes team up in family doubles against their parents. “We normally kill them,” he said laughing.
Not long after Laguna’s CIF run ended against last year, Hamilton won the 2011 West Coast Open Tennis Tournament in Lakewood last May. He also made it to the semifinals at the Regional Championships in Palm Desert.
A broken wrist cut short Hamilton’s sophomore season, his first on varsity. At least as a singles player. Coach Talarico paired him cast and all with Mikey Rubel, and the two went on to win the league doubles titles. Hamilton also had doubles success last November, when he and partner Jay Leelavanich of Tarzana made it to the finals of the National Open in Michigan. Hamilton ended up receiving the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award.
Growing up, Hamilton never thought he’d become his high school’s number one player. Now that he is, he takes the responsibility seriously. “It is a lot of pressure,” he said
Davis welcomes Hamilton’s leadership skills. “It’s kind of nice that he will step up and make comments to the kids and try to instill something in their attitude that will make them better tennis players.”
“I just try to be as supportive as I can,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton doesn’t get many opportunities to leverage his leadership skills in practice. He spends much of his time training at Woodbridge, where he can trade shots with players closer to his skill level. His coach and teammates know it’s the only way he can hope to improve, and they understand his absence.
Davis has developed top national juniors during his years as a personal coach, and he knows what it takes to reach the level Hamilton aspires to. “Anybody that works hard enough, where they’re a proficient enough tennis player to get a ranking, I think they’ve achieved quite a bit,” said Davis. “If he makes another big push over the next six months, he’ll be strong enough to get into a good tennis college.”
For Hamilton, college tennis would be the culmination of a lifelong commitment to the sport truly loves.