Benefield: Cardinal Newman's Joey Greco triumphs in North Bay League-Oak tennis tournament

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Cardinal Newman sophomore Joey Greco emerged from a tangle of talented upperclassmen to claim the first-ever North Bay League-Oak Division singles crown — a win that shifts the lineup for the NBL-Oak doubles tournament that starts at Santa Rosa High today.

Greco, seeded third coming into the singles tournament, dispatched Analy’s Steven Doody 6-2, 6-2 and Montgomery’s Ryan Leung 6-0, 6-0 on Thursday, then beat Maria Carrillo’s Jim Klyce 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 and Windsor’s Jack Amormino 6-1, 6-7 (7-3), 6-4 in the championship match Saturday.

The win gives Greco an automatic berth to the North Coast Section tournament starting May 3.

“I feel like I have been playing the best I’ve played in my whole life,” Greco said of his run through the league’s top talent.

Which is odd, he said, because on the eve of the tournament, he wasn’t feeling it.

“The last practice before the tournament, I just didn’t want to be out there,” he said. “Our assistant coach kept asking, ‘Do you even want to win the tournament?’”

I guess he did.

“I came out and played my heart out,” he said.

His coach and dad, Tony Greco, agreed.

“I think he’s played the best he’s ever played this past weekend,” he said.

The matches against Klyce and then Amormino were barnburners, he said.

“Those were two of the best matches I have seen,” he said.

“Joey was very consistent,” Maria Carrillo coach Bob Klyce said of the match between his son, Jim, and Greco. “That was the difference in the match.”

So that win served up a finals showdown with Amormino — the dark horse of the two-day tournament.

Amormino, Windsor’s top player, came into the tournament unseeded, but he picked a pretty good time to beat a bunch of guys he’d never beaten before. He took down Analy’s Nick Kraemer 6-0, 6-0 and Maria Carrillo’s Cadell Traya, the No. 4 seed, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 on day one and then beat the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Montgomery senior Justin Richter, 0-6, 6-2, 6-1 to set up a championship showdown with Greco, who was seeded third.

It wasn’t magical play, or even the best tennis of his life, Amormino said. It was mainly just hustle.

“I wasn’t playing extremely good in terms of hitting the ball like super hard or making the greatest shots all of the time, but I put a lot of effort in,” he said. “I was chasing down every single ball and making my opponents work for every shot.”

And he tried to force an extra shot when he could, so perhaps the guy on the other side of the net would make a mistake.

Amormino also plays basketball. That fitness and athleticism paid dividends, according to Montgomery coach Joshua Silverman.

“He plays with as much heart as anybody,” he said. “His heart and his competitiveness puts him in contention.

“For high school tennis and the NBL, his athleticism I’d say is far and away above the others out there on the court, so he was not a complete surprise to me,” he said.

But Amormino might have been a bit of a surprise to himself.

In the past, he said, he has tended to throw in the towel against the heavy hitters in league.

Not at the tournament.

“What’s weird is I used to kind of just give up,” he said. “But this is my senior year, this is the last chance I have, I need to go my hardest.”

But facing Greco, Amormino’s magic ran out.

“I struggled with Joey,” he said.

But the two are friends. So even though one had to lose, it was all good.

“When I went to shake his hand, he didn’t even look upset,” Greco said. “He was smiling and laughing and was like, ‘Great job.’ And I was like, ‘You played so well.’ That would be the one person in the tournament that I would want to lose to if I did. It was great for him to go that far. I was really proud.”

Amormino will suit up and play in the doubles tournament today, but he said he’s already put together a pretty good final chapter of his tennis career.

“I feel like I’m a pretty happy person and I feel like it’s pretty hard to upset a four (seed) and one (seed) who are both really good,” he said. “Of course I want to win; nobody wants to lose. For getting second, I’m as happy as I could possibly be.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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