An opportunity gained is often an opportunity lost, and so it was last year for Conestoga tennis player Kevin Wang.
Wang had played No. 1 singles as a freshman and was hoping to fill that spot again last season. Then an exchange student from Ecuador joined the team.
"I heard about him early in sophomore year, but I never actually met him until probably a month before the season," Wang recalled, adding that he had heard that Juan Escobar was "really good."
Coming to America to increase his chances of earning a college scholarship, Escobar took over at No. 1 singles (bumping Wang to No. 2), won the District 1 Class AAA title, and reached the state semifinals before moving on to Texas Tech, where he redshirted this season.
Exchange students who excel at tennis don't show up at Conestoga every year. So there was no reason for Wang to be apprehensive about the No. 1 spot this season, right?
"Actually, at one point, there was," Wang said, "because there were rumors of a kid coming up from Alabama."
No, not again.
Wang has been the Pioneers' No. 1 all season. He also is the best player in District 1 Class AAA. After winning district singles and helping Conestoga capture the state team title in Class AAA, Wang enters the state individual tournament Friday at the Hershey Racquet Club.
Wang is 21-2 this season, having also won the Central League tournament. In addition, he was leading in four matches in the district and state team championships when play was halted because Conestoga had clinched the overall match.
"The season's just been like magical," Wang said. "Everything has been working for the team. We've gotten everything we've wanted done, and I've gotten what I've wanted done. I just need to keep it going."
Wang has matured in his junior season, his coaches say, and they attribute that in part to his experiences as a sophomore.
Blake Stabert, cocoach of Conestoga with Jon Goodman, said he thought that Wang was tentative as a freshman, perhaps because he was only a ninth grader or because he felt he was playing in the shadow of his brother Gary, who had been a mainstay on the team.
Escobar's arrival then caused what Goodman called a problem that every coach wants: having two No. 1-caliber players. Goodman said that Escobar and Wang were close in ability and that the coaches went with Escobar at No. 1 because he was a senior and they wanted to take some pressure off Wang, who also was participating in U.S. Tennis Association events.
Wang handled the situation well, the coaches said.
"I understood that Juan was a senior and that was his only chance, so why not give him the opportunity?" Wang said. "I had two more years, so . . ."
In contrast to Wang, Escobar didn't hold anything back.
"Juan was playing the No. 1 player in the state last year, and everyone knew that he was going to lose," Stabert said. "And he said don't worry, like, I got him. I think a little bit of that rubbed off on [Wang], where he has become more aggressive and assertive as a player."
Wang did win the Central League championship last year, beating Escobar in the final, and entered the district tournament as the second seed. After a first-round bye, Wang lost his next match.
This year, after winning the league title, Wang rolled through districts.
"He's always looking to attack. He's also matured a lot in the past year," Strath Haven coach TJ Adams said.
"At times during his first two high school seasons, his play would dip in big matches, but this year he's been really strong mentally and has learned how to win when the pressure is on."
Wang's season will end this weekend at states. Goodman thinks he is one of four or five players who could win the Class AAA title.
Wang would like to play in college, following in the footsteps of his brother, who went on to join the junior varsity at Princeton. Kevin Wang is looking at several schools, including Princeton and Penn and Division III Johns Hopkins and Williams.
"I'd like to go to a big Division I school, maybe even Ivy [League], and I would also like to play tennis," Wang said. "But depending on the academic rigor of the school I get into, I'm not sure if I can fully commit to tennis."
First, Wang still has his senior year at Conestoga. And maybe, just maybe, there will be no doubt, or apprehension, about who will be the No. 1 player.
Oh, that student from Alabama? He did indeed move into the district, and played doubles for the Pioneers.
For him and most of his teammates, the season is over. For Wang, some business remains.
"He wants to be state champ," Goodman said. "And if he's not, it won't be through a lack of effort and focus."