All-Empire boys tennis: Casa Grande’s Halligan was nearly flawless

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casa Grande's Matt Halligan (photo by John Burgess, The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande’s Matt Halligan (photo by John Burgess, The Press Democrat)

Just one set. That was the only loss for senior Matt Halligan this season in Empire boys tennis, as he went undefeated in all his North Bay League matches.

Such has been the Casa Grande great’s prep tennis dominance that Halligan is this year’s All-Empire Tennis Boys Player of the Year. Halligan also received the honor as a sophomore.

“Matt has gone head and heels above everyone else,” said Casa Grande coach Lisa Thornton. “He’s matured and showed an ability to expand his game.”

Adding a North Bay League title this season to a pair of Sonoma County League championships, the tall, powerful Halligan remained the Empire’s best after Casa Grande moved into the tougher NBL for his senior season.

While losses at the North Coast Section tournament have provided disappointing conclusions to each season, Halligan was at the top of his game against the Bay Area’s best.

“Every match I was getting better at something. I challenged myself every day,” Halligan said. “It was fun.”

The reward for Halligan’s hard work and success is playing at the college level. The young man with the big serve and attacking game will play next season at Holy Names University.

Tennis has been Halligan’s passion since first picking up a racket at age 6. His family plays the game, still hitting together at Petaluma Valley Athletic Club.

Baseball was a twin pursuit into middle school before Halligan committed more weekends and summers to junior tennis tournaments.

“I wanted to be good at something and I’m good at tennis,” he said. The lone match Halligan lost in league play over four years was in the SCL finals as a freshman at Casa Grande. Halligan lost only one set in NBL play this season.

Always strong with the serve and steady at the baseline, Halligan as a senior improved his volley and drop shots as well as his game management.

“His variety of shots is much better. He’s got power with control,” Thornton said. “Now he has a game plan.”

A calmer mental approach also helped Halligan ace matches even in the more competitive NBL.

“He doesn’t let things spiral,” Thornton said. “You’ve got to be mentally tough or you’re not going to make it in this game.”

Halligan’s maturity as a player was matched by his growth as a team leader. Thornton encouraged him to challenge teammates in practice and help prepare the Gauchos for opponents, which also raised Halligan’s level of play.

For instance, Halligan would play against two teammates. While he would have to hit clean winners in the singles court, they just needed winners in the full doubles court.

“It was a great way to make them want to play better,” Halligan said. “It was really important to show as a senior leading the team in a new league that we could do real well.”

Casa Grande’s debut in the NBL indeed was memorable, finishing second to Cardinal Newman.

The experience leading Casa Grande into a new league should be valuable as Halligan joins Holy Names in the university’s inaugural season of men’s tennis.

To prepare for the next level Halligan is working on speed, strength, and a more consistent forehand. He is playing men’s open tournaments across Northern California and continues to steadily rise in the regional rankings.

“I just love competing and it’s just a great feeling to be out there on the court,” Halligan said. “I’m doing what I love.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.

ALL-EMPIRE TEAM

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Matt Halligan, Casa Grande, Sr.

FIRST TEAM

Dylan Tasker, Cardinal Newman, Sr.

Alec Wong, Rancho Cotate, Fr.

Jacob Gollub, Montgomery, Sr.

Lanny Mounts, Ukiah, Sr.

Arthur Lai, Maria Carrillo, Jr.

Kevin To, Piner, Sr.

Steven Montano, Sonoma Valley, Sr.

Matt Lancaster, Analy, Sr.

John Bursick, Healdsburg, Sr.

Rory Winters, St. Helena, Fr.

SECOND TEAM

Tim McCullough, Cardinal Newman, Sr.

Brian Chere, Santa Rosa, Sr.

Shaffer Battaglia, Casa Grande, Sr.

Ankur Goswami, Maria Carrillo, Jr.

Greg Gschwend, Cardinal Newman, Sr.

Stuart Horner, Maria Carrillo, Jr.

Connor Griggs-Demmin, Sonoma Valley, Sr.

Matt Shafer, Petaluma, Sr.

Jaz Gonzales, Petaluma, Sr.

Andrew Hoppe, St. Vincent, Sr.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Tony Greco, Cardinal Newman

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