Out of his brother's shadow, freshman Shay Wali dominates the competition and is Pinellas County player of the year.
By LAURA LEE
Published June 4, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Maybe St. Petersburg didn't need Shay Wali.
Perhaps the Green Devils were deep enough to have gone undefeated on their own; talented enough to win the district title without him; strong enough to make a run for a consecutive trip to the state tournament sans Wali.
But you won't hear any complaints from the Green Devils. They're glad he came.
"We were blessed to have him," coach Alan Turnquist said. "You don't normally get a kid like that to play high school tennis."
The gap between Wali, a freshman, and his opponents was huge. He won the district title by defeating Palm Harbor U.'s Stephen Segura 6-1, 6-0 and the region title over Naples Lely's best player, Keith Embree, 6-2, 6-1. If it hadn't been so hot outside, he might not have broken a sweat.
The anticipation of his arrival this season was high. His older brother, Alamgir, had consecrated the Wali name with a state title last year. There were murmurs that Shay could be even better.
There was no state title this year, but that's okay. He has a few more tries ahead of him if he chooses to go after it again. Still, he more than lived up to expectations. Wali never lost a match in the county and suffered his first and only singles loss in the state semifinal, a match away from playing for the state championship.
Wali started the season in the shadow of his older brother and finished by accomplishing at least one of his goals: "I wish more people knew me for myself."
His St. Petersburg teammates did much of the same, beating up on everyone. It was rare that the team would lose an individual or doubles match. St. Petersburg swept its district tournament and went on to the region tourney, where the Green Devils lost by one match to Lely. Wali took responsibility for the letdown. Although he'd won his singles match, he and sophomore Nick Gallauer lost their doubles match.
"That's where the pressure got to him," Turnquist said.
"It was a challenge for me," Wali said. "We didn't leave any space for defeat. The only thing I could do to relieve the pressure was win my matches."
Wali and the Green Devils will try again next year. Although he'll be just a sophomore, it could be his last year playing high school tennis. He and his instructor at the St. Petersburg Tennis Center, Rick Crockett, are preparing for his professional career, which could begin as early as next year.
Wali admits the high school game isn't his first priority. In fact, he doesn't think it does much for improving his individual game. But when he plays, he plays to win, and he and the team had set out to win a state championship.
"What I did this year was for my team," Wali said. "I'm trying to help out the team as much as possible."
Turnquist said such a comment is an example of Wali's selflessness. He may have been a step ahead of most everyone he played, but he never acted that way.
"He's not your typical tennis brat," Turnquist said. "He treats all his teammates as peers, not as subordinates. That'll carry him a long way."