CROWN POINT | Crown Point freshman Bryce Bonin feels like he has a target on his back.
He knows everyone -- even teammates in practice -- want to take their best shot at him and beat him.
"I know nobody likes to lose to an underclassman," Bonin said.
As of Monday, Bonin holds a 7-1 record as Crown Point's No. 1 singles player this season. His only loss came to Mishawaka Marian's No. 1 at the Penn Tournament on Aug. 31.
Other matches against Northridge and Penn in that tournament definitely helped Bonin continue improving.
"It helped me a lot because I got to see some of the better competition in that tournament," he said. "There were some really good players that I played."
In the Penn Tournament, Bonin shook off his loss and beat Penn's Michael Wang, 6-4, 6-4 in his next match.
"I do think the intimidation factor came into play there," Crown Point coach Chris Korzeniewski said. "He showed his maturity in coming back and beating an even tougher player."
Korzeniewski watched Bonin make his presence felt in United States Tennis Association tournaments, but never got a chance to work with him until practice started this season.
"He was just the perfect fit for these guys," Korzeniewski said. "He stepped right in and the varsity accepted him. That's a rare thing, to have a freshman top out everybody.
"There may be a little bit of animosity, but not with these kids."
Bonin's first win this season came against Andrean. He admitted being quite nervous in the match, and Korzeniewski had to calm him down.
"Once I started playing, I got more comfortable and started playing tennis, not worrying about where I was or what position I was playing," Bonin said. "Coach 'K' kind of talked me through my nerves. I took some deep breaths and tried to relax myself and play."
Despite a small sample size of matches this season, Korzeniewski has already seen marked improvement in Bonin's physical game.
"He definitely has improved on his physical conditioning," Korzeniewski said. "His endurance has gone up. He's slimmed down with our very strict conditioning program.
"He offers the team a lot of experience in technique. He can show the guys examples of picking the ball up on the rise, kick serves and good footwork."
The Bulldogs have won six straight sectional championships, but they typically hit a wall in the regional. Crown Point hasn't won a regional since 1971, also the last time the Bulldogs won state.
"We want to get as far as we can in the state tournament," Bonin said. "We want to come together as a team and help each other out when we can."