FORT WAYNE – Bishop Dwenger tennis coach Tim Koehl noticed a little difference in senior Bertram Najev in his return for the Saints this year, but Koehl has seen a big difference in the team with Najev back after not playing as a junior because of personal issues.
He has really matured in the past few years, said Koehl, whose team is 7-1 overall, 5-0 in the SAC and ranked No. 25 in the state. He came back with a good attitude. He has really turned things around. I am really proud of him.
We missed him, definitely. It was one of those things where he needed to take a break and get things situated with his family and his personal situation, so that’s what he did. He is an outstanding player, so having him play at No. 1 is a point I expect him to win. It just helps me as a coach to rearrange my other players in a direction to get the three points to have a team win. He just strengthens our team and brings a new energy to us.
Najev advanced to the state quarterfinals at No. 1 singles as a freshman and earned second-team All-State honors as a sophomore.
I had to step back and figure some things out, Najev said of his 2012 absence. Now I am back this year and ready and motivated to do great. The feeling was great representing Dwenger again because of their proud reputation and everything that we represent. I was able to prepare for the season with the team in June and July and putting on the uniform was a great feeling.
Najev wasn’t totally away from tennis last year as he practiced almost daily with senior teammate Charlie Scott, who filled in for Najev at No. 1 singles last year, and also with Canterbury junior Leah Barnes.
Najev said he worked on his fitness, footwork, cutting down on errors and mental attitude to help him win close matches.
I think I have more passion now for the game, Najev said. I am trying to be patient when I play, and I think I really matured. I focus on my match and my opponent and just try to go 100 percent when I come on the court.
Najev is 7-1 for Dwenger this year, splitting his time between singles (4-1) and doubles (3-0).
Being able to move other people around and give other people experiences is part of the strategy as well, Koehl said. I have some young kids who are vying for positions (next year), and it gives me a chance to mix and match some of my doubles players to see what I have for the future.
(Najev) is a very good tennis player, with a lot of skills and can play singles and doubles. He has brought team leadership in as well. I am very lucky to have him as far as being a leader.
Koehl said having Najev and Scott play doubles together also gives the friends a chance to enjoy tennis, and the Saints coach promised to continue switching the lineup around.
Doubles is a lot of fun to mix things up, Najev said.