Roy Van Gelder certainly made the most of his first season of tennis in America. The King High senior moved from Holland last Feb. 28 and quickly established himself as one of the more formidable players in Hillsborough County. His 13-1 record was indicative of the type of season enjoyed by the St. Petersburg Times' Hillsborough County Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
His regular season success consisted of victories over such competitors as Plant's Charles Poe, Chamberlain's David Langkam, and Bloomingdale's Brian Whitney.
"After practicing a lot, I went into the season well prepared," Van Gelder said. "My goal was to go undefeated for the season, and I got off to a real good start."
But the first test of his ability to fight back came against Brandon's Greg Hsiao. After taking the first set 6-1, Van Gelder fell in the second 5-7 and trailed the third 3-5 before rallying to take the set and the match 7-5.
"It was going pretty easy for me before the Brandon match," Van Gelder said. "Hsiao gave me a wakeup call and I knew it wasn't going to be easy to defeat him."
With his record an unblemished 11-0 entering the Class 4A-District 4 tournament, Van Gelder, the No. 2 seed, received a first-round bye. As it turned out, his second-round opponent was Hsiao.
Hsiao once again proved a thorn in the side with an opening set victory before Van Gelder came back to win again 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Hsaio had built a 4-2 lead in the final set.
"The two wins over Hsiao were very tough," Van Gelder said. "He's a tough guy to beat and he's another good player to look for in the future."
King coach Dendell Lawrence felt all along that his top player was more than just another good player.
"I knew I had the best player in the county," he said. "He beat up on all his opponents and is admired by his teammates and the whole school."
After beating Hsiao, Van Gelder advanced to the semifinal round where he eliminated Langkam 6-1, 6-0. That victory set up a showdown with No. 1 seed Eric Dean from Winter Haven.
But it was Dean who took the spotlight and cast the only loss on Van Gelder's record with a 6-1, 6-1 victory.
"I was disappointed at losing in the finals, because I wanted to go to states," he said. "But Dean played great the whole tournament. I learned a lot from Dean and I have a lot of respect for him."
The opposition probably learned a lot from Van Gelder and his ability to keep his competition off-balance.
"I like to vary my game by mixing up my shots," he said. "My game plan is to throw my opponents off-balance and win as soon as possible."
Although he does not have definite plans, the young Dutchman hopes to attend college and continue his playing career.
"I would like to go on and play at the college level," he said. "In Holland, sports and school are not mixed. The focus is kept on studying, with sports being extracurricular. I want to both play and study at some college."
Joining Van Gelder on the first team are Jesuit's Mike Cichon, Bloomingdale's Song Ko and Brian Whitney and Berkeley Prep's Brad Verkauf. The second team has Chamberlain's Dennis Langkam and Edward Morris, while Plant is represented by Scott Grooms and Chandler Perry. The Bulls' Kevin Whitney completes the second team.
As a result of guiding his team to its first district title, Bloomingdale coach Frank Hornbrook was named the Times coach of the year. The Bulls piled up 20 points at the 4A-4 tournament to beat Winter Haven by three.
All-county boys tennis
Player of the Year:
Roy Van Gelder, King
Coach of the Year:
Frank Hornbrook, Bloomingdale
Name School Yr.
Roy Van Gelder King Sr.
Mike Cichon Jesuit Sr.
Song Ko Bloomingdale Sr.
Brad Verkauf Berkeley Prep Jr.
Brian Whitney Bloomingdale Jr.
Name School Yr.
Scott Grooms Plant Jr.
Dennis Langkam Chamberlain So.
Edward Morris Chamberlain So.
Chandler Perry Plant Sr.
Kevin Whitney Bloomingdale Jr.
Jay Baldwin; Brandon _ Greg Hsiao, Joe Pitcher; Berkeley Prep _ Tejas Patel; Plant _ Charles Poe.