- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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WINNETKA, Ill. -- A year ago, New Trier junior Robert Stineman probably wouldn't have defeated defending state tennis singles champion Blake Bazarnik as he did Tuesday in his first match of his 2010 season.
Last season, Stineman likely would have allowed his nerves to get to him, and Bazarnik would have torn him apart point by point on his way to a victory.
That was just what Stineman did last year. No one doubted he was as skilled as anyone in the state as he defeated some of the bigger names, but his tendency to allow his emotions to run loose was his downfall. It's why Bazarnik won the state singles title last season, and Stineman finished sixth.
"I wouldn't be totally focused on the match," Stineman said of last season. "I would be focused on getting myself too pumped up. If you're too excited, it ends up hurting you."
On Tuesday, Stineman, the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week, showed he had learned from his past mistakes and knocked off the defending champ in two sets.
"I knew what was going to happen if I got overly excited," Stineman said. "I definitely didn't want to go through that again. What me and my high school coach Tad [Eckert] talked about before the match was keeping myself calm and cool the entire match. That's exactly what I did. I didn't get flustered. I didn't get overly excited when I won points, and I didn't get overly frustrated when I lost points."
Eckert was a proud coach.
"That's the biggest thing I wanted to see from Robert in that opening match, and he proved himself," Eckert said. "I think he's got a heightened sense of maturity now. He's a junior now."
That's good news for Stineman and New Trier, but bad for everyone else. The Trevians' goal is to knock Hinsdale Central off its throne of three consecutive state championships, and if Stineman can contend for a singles title, that would be helpful.
The state's singles title is thought to be between Stineman, Bazarnik and Hinsdale Central's Augie Bloom. Eckert thought Tuesday marked just the beginning of a three-way race to the state finals.
"It's nice to start the season 1-0 instead of 0-1," Eckert said. "I'm sure that's not sitting well with Blake. I told both of them it's probably not the last time they'll see each other. This is the start of a nice rivalry in the 2010 season."
Stineman has had success against Bazarnik, but not against Bloom, with whom he is good friends. Stineman has never defeated Bloom.
"Hopefully, I'll change that," said Stineman, who is considering playing at Harvard, Notre Dame, Stanford or Yale. "I never have had confidence being in this category. It's just playing my best under pressure in the key moments because I know I have the ability."
If his first match was any indication of Stineman's season, he should be just fine.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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