Boys Tennis: Niles North’s Bacalla standing tall in the CSL
Park Ridge, 4/17/12 Niles North's Dave Bacalla hits a return shot during his match against Maine South's Patrick Daleiden at Maine South April 17. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun Times Media
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:11AM
Having already earned his spot as one of the best 24 tennis players in the state as a sophomore, Niles North’s Dave Bacalla experienced something in the offseason which made him a decisively more powerful, dangerous player this year.
Bacalla had a growth spurt.
“Last year I was actually significantly shorter,” said Bacalla, who the USTA currently ranks as the 16th-best 18U tennis player in the Midwest. “I was four or five inches shorter, but in the summer I had a growth spurt.”
In becoming taller and stronger during the offseason, Bacalla has coupled increased power on his shot with the touch and consistent ball striking that made him such a tough player as a sophomore. Bacalla’s growth spurt has brought him to 5-foot-10, and being taller has had the most noticeable effect on his serve.
“It helps my serve a lot because the angle of my serve is higher, aiming down,” said Bacalla of his spurt. “Being able to hang with these big kids (is easier). Obviously I’m not one of the tallest players out here, but that added bonus helps a lot.”
“His serve has probably increased in speed by a good 10 miles-per-hour,” said Niles North coach Rich Jaffe. “He’s always been an aggressive player, but he hit the weight room this year and he’s a much more powerful player.”
Since growing and putting on bulk during the offseason, Bacalla, 17, has seen his tennis ranking jump significantly, although a recent climb to the 18U division has brought with it an older, more skilled set of opponents.
But because of stepped-up speed on his serve, Bacalla has managed better than he did when he was 15.
“It’s my first year in 18s, so I’m playing older kids,” Bacalla said. “When I played 16s and I was 15, I had nowhere near this ranking. I’m pretty happy with my results.”
While Bacalla has become one of the best 20 players in the Midwest, he’s still consistently challenged by players within the Central Suburban League.
New Trier’s Jared Hiltzik, a University of Illinois recruit, is the No. 1 ranked player in the state, and Bacalla’s lone loss of the season came against Glenbrook South junior Konrad Zieba.
Playing nationally-ranked competition within the CSL has benefited Bacalla and made the decision to play tennis at Niles North instead of USTA tournaments year-round an easy one.
“It’s definitely a great conference,” Bacalla said. “I get good competition playing these nationally-ranked players that I don’t usually get to play against. High school is a good way to play against them.”
Bacalla is significantly taller and stronger this season, yet those aren’t the only two ways he’s changed. Bacalla, whose primary goal this season is to finish in the top-10 at state, has become a mentor for some of Niles North’s less experienced players, attempting to help them grow.
“I think the guys are looking up to me more as a leader as I grow up more,” Bacalla said. “They’re asking me questions and I’m educating them, I guess. Some of these guys are just learning how to play. I’m teaching them and they’re getting better and better.”