Dils, Jaramillo, Salazar, Sanchez, Lynch … Get ready to add Grega to the list of boys from Belen who made a name for themselves in southwest tennis circles.

Just 11 years old, David Grega is still an up-and-comer. But he’s gradually climbing the rankings and seems destine to be one of the next in line to bolster Belen’s brawny tennis tradition.

“David has a lot of potential,” said Regina Elkins, who has headed the Belen tennis program for 25 years and seen a lot of young players come through in that time. “He has learned the game of tennis at a very young age. He reminds me of Ray Jaramillo.”

Ray Jaramillo was Belen High School’s first state singles champion. As a senior, he won the state singles title and helped the Eagles win their only state team title in 1994.

Elkins said Grega reminds her of Jaramillo “because his knowledge of the game came so young. He has the insight, the court sense. He’s very, very sharp.”

Jaramillo went on to earn a scholarship at the University of New Mexico, where he played under the Dils brothers head coach Allan and assistant Loren twins who won the state doubles title at Belen High in the late 1980s.

Also on the Eagles state championship team in ’94 was Gabe Salazar, who finished third that year and was second the following season.

Tommy Sanchez was the next Eagle tennis great, qualifying for state each year up to his graduation in ’98.

Derek Lynch, who was state runner-up last season as a junior, currently carries the banner for Belen.

Grega already has established ties with some of his predecessors. He occasionally hits with Lynch, and he served as ball boy for the Dils at Lobo tennis matches.

Grega is otherwise oblivious to his place in Belen tennis tradition. “I don’t know, I just like to play,” he said when asked about his role as successor.

Though he’s only been playing tennis for two years, Grega has been in love with the game ever since Elkins took him to his first tournament two summers ago. Grega had signed up for Elkins’ tennis camp that summer. She saw his potential and took him to a tournament in Los Alamos. “He just fell in love with the game of tennis,” Elkins said. “He liked competing.”

Now, the son of David and Barbara Grega competes regularly. “In July alone,” Barbara said, “he had three big tournaments, plus he played team tennis, plus clinics, plus he has his personal lessons.”

Grega said he practices or plays tennis about three times during the week, “but the weekends are only for tennis,” he said. “Except I go to church, too.”

All that hard work has helped. He’s currently ranked 92nd in the southwest region, playing as an 11-year-old in the 12-and-under division. Grega and his doubles partner, Jacob Tafoya of Albuquerque, are ranked 22nd in the region.

Grega, who will enter the sixth grade at St. Mary’s School in Belen this fall, said he is hoping to move up the charts as he matures.

“I’m still improving. I’m trying to work my way up the rankings one step at a time. Last year, I was in the 100s,” he said.

He’s also still growing. Elkins said Grega also reminds her a little of Tommy Sanchez because he’s not very tall. “A lot of people say that I’m sprouting,” said Grega, who now stands 4-feet-7-inches tall.

Grega has also been compared to Andy Roddick, one of the top American players on the pro tour. “A lot of people say we look alike because, whenever I get psyched up, when I play tennis, I put my hat backwards,” he said.

He’s young, he’s growing and he’s determined. It may be just a matter of time before David Grega adds his name to the list of those who make up Belen’s brawny tennis tradition.

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T.S. Last