NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck boys tennis coach Tony Loomis thought he knew exactly what he had coming back for this season: a young, fresh, energetic team coming off a 14-4 ledger that exceeded all expectations.
The ‘Hounds lost five seniors from last year, though, so there was bound to be a bit of inexperience. Then, an exchange student from Germany entered the mix.
Julian Milek a lefty with a crafty game honed on club teams in his home nation, quickly emerged as the No. 1 seed and the Greyhounds hit the court running.
“Julian brings an excitement to the game and it has influenced all the other players,” says Loomis, who is in his second year at the helm. “They try and emulate the things he does and it has made them all better players and it has certainly made us a better team.”
How much better? With four matches left in the regular season, the Greyhounds were two wins away from matching the win total of the 2007 team that won the Naugatuck Valley League title. Naugy tied that mark last season but that was with five seniors; this year’s group has only one senior in Milek.
Milek didn’t play on a high school team in Germany — “they don’t have high school teams like this,” he says — but rather with a club team for the past eight years. He has been impressed with the athleticism of players he’s faced here.
“They don’t practice every day like over here,” Milek says, smiling wide. “(They) maybe practice two days a week. Here (it’s) every day, in the gym, outside, lifting weights. These guys are in real good shape. I think the biggest difference from my country is we play on clay courts over there. Overall I think the game is a lot the same.”
Loomis says Milek’s worldly experience has made a profound impact.
“His presence on this team has been invaluable,” Loomis adds. “Nothing I can do as a coach can have the same effect that Julian has had on this team. When it comes from a peer, the kids are more acceptable to that and the overall play of the entire team has benefited from his presence on the court.”
All six singles players have already surpassed the 10-win mark on the season. Four juniors — captain Jake Morrissey, Tyler Posser, Jeff Hensley, Yun Chao Chen — and sophomore Mike Popescu all have double-digit wins to back up Milek and his 13-1 record.
Milek was a perfect 9-0 on the season when he faced off April 22 against Woodland senior Kyle Beynor, who was undefeated in his NVL singles career with more than 50 victories.
Beynor got out to a 3-1 advantage when Milek battled back to tie the match at 3-3. Beynor went on to get the best of Milek that day in an 8-3 win.
“I was a little nervous maybe,” Milek says. “I have heard all season about Woodland and their No. 1 player and I wasn’t really myself. He is an outstanding player and you have to really be on your game. But we are having much success this year as a team and that was a tough loss for us.”
Milek made some adjustments and the second time he faced Beynor, May 2, Julian broke out to a 6-0 lead and cruised to an 8-4 win, ending one of the most impressive streaks in the history of the NVL.
Milek has his sights set on graduating high school and returning home to attend college and continue to pursue his love of playing tennis.
“Coming here to this country has certainly met all my expectations,” Milek adds. “I think this experience has made me mentally stronger. Without a doubt this has been the most exciting year of my life. I will always remember the friendships I’ve made here and playing for the Naugatuck Greyhounds.”