"We're a pretty strong team this year. We have a lot of depth and a very flexible lineup," Richardson said at Tuesday's match. "I'm able to do a lot more with these kids than I would ordinarily. I've talked to the kids and they've told me that the coach last year didn't really get them excited about tennis, and I think this year I've not only got them excited about playing tennis, but I've got them excited about playing good tennis."
Richardson has impressed on his players the importance of keeping their bodies in peak condition and continuing to hone their skills year-round, something he feels has helped this year's squad play up to its high talent level.
Nobody's played better for the Wolverines than No. 1 singles standout Kraig Foster, who has impressed Richardson with both his talent and his aggressive style of play. Foster defeated Freedom's top player, Bob Harris, in straight sets, 7-6(6), 6-2 on Tuesday.
"He plays an aggressive style of tennis; he likes to move forward and really stay in the point and close points out, and I think that makes him really successful at No. 1," Richardson said. "You have to have a really aggressive nature to play No. 1 singles. This season I've worked on him believing more in himself and in his skills and just letting his skills do the work."
Sophomore David Branson, Deer Valley's No. 2 singles player, has been nicknamed "The Wall" by his teammates because he never lets the ball past him, returning everything his opponents hit his way. The baseliner doesn't try to hit big shots, but rather plays the game with smarts and consistency, qualities Richardson values almost as much as his impeccable character and strong work ethic.
Justin Kasad and Masood Younus make up Deer Valley's highly successful No. 1 doubles tandem. The pair has been playing together for a number of years, and that familiarity has paid off for them with a strong showing thus far. The pair cruised to a straight-set victory over Falcons Eilan Zeng and Stephen Urdiales, 6-3, 6-0.
Younus, a junior, will be graduating with this year's senior class thanks to his outstanding commitment to academic excellence. He'll be attending UC Berkeley with Kasad next fall.
Three other Wolverines have earned scholarships to UC Santa Cruz, something that Richardson is even more proud of than the excellence his team has shown on the court.
"For us, education has always been a priority - education first, tennis second at Deer Valley," said Richardson. "Our kids have earned the right to play tennis. The school requires that the kids maintain a 2.0 grade point average, but we've imposed our sanction on this team to force the kids to get a 3.0, because in order for them to move on and go to a four-year institution, they're going to need at least a 3.0."
Every member of the team has bought into the tougher requirement imposed by Richardson this year, and the team hasn't lost a single player due to academic ineligibility.
Despite the added academic expectations, the team remains steadfast in its pursuit of a BVAL championship.
"We're shooting for No. 1. We're not going to settle for No. 2," Richardson said of his team's drive to win. "We're just going to have to live down the mystique of De La Salle. De La Salle carries a mystique that they've held in this league for a number of years. We have to help our kids rise above that mystique and just play their brand of tennis."