Rio Mesa’s Birns has an appetite for tennis—and good grub

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© Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Sam Birns, a junior, has established himself as the Rio Mesa High boys’ tennis team’s top singles player and its biggest eater. Says Spartan head coach Steve Worthington: “He has a racket in one hand and a sandwich in the other. He never met a sandwich he didn’t like.” © Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Sam Birns is a math mastermind and tennis whiz kid.Naturally, the Rio Mesa High junior always looks like he’s figuring things out and trying something new on the hardcourt.

Birns doesn’t toy with his opponents. It’s more like he’s analyzing his own game while competing. He’s embroiled in a game of internal tennis to stretch the limits of possibility.

The Spartan attacks the net like a swashbuckling pirate thirsty for treasure.

He g lides effor t les s ly across the court as if sliding on linoleum in tube socks.

His forehand strikes are graceful. He is a mechanic of finesse and strategy.

Teammates admire Birns’ skills, modesty and happy-golucky nature.

“ He’s an all- around good player,” said senior teammate Alec Branch. “And he’s a great guy.”

Birns doesn’t let talent shroud his ego.

“Some people who are good, it gets to their head,” Branch said. “He’s not like that at all. He’s so down to earth. . . .

“ He’s such a positive influence.”

Birns, who won 15 of his first 16 matches, guides Rio Mesa at No. 1 singles.

He helped the Spartans start 7-0 overall and 2-0 in the Pacific View League at press time.

The junior Spartan plays the game the right way, according to head coach Steve Worthington.

“Win or lose, it’s going to be with a positive attitude, enthusiasm and poise,” Worthington said.

A third-year varsity standout, Birns said he enjoys competing with his teammates.

“ We’ve got a lot of new players but we’ve really come together,” Birns said after winning all three of his bouts on Tuesday against Pacifica at home, 6-3, 6-1 and 6-0.

“We’re a really close team. The camaraderie we have, that’s really special. Everyone’s made big strides.”

Although Birns doesn’t consider his net game a strength yet, he’s working on controlling and finishing points from pointblank range.

He’s also fine-tuning his backhand and his mental fortitude.

“I’m trying to figure out how to beat tougher players,” Birns said. “When my ‘A’ game is off, I have trouble adjusting.”

Senior Kyle Crier said Birns is quick on the court.

“He can get to any ball,” Crier said. “He’s really versatile. His strokes are good all around.”

Winning is gravy, but the journey is more important than the destination.

“Obviously, it’s nice to win,” Birns said. “It’s about playing well, working hard, having fun and trying to improve.

“It’s just a game at the end of the day.”

Birns, 17, said he was a “fat little kid” when he picked up a racket at age 6, running around with the other youngsters and “hitting the ball around and having no idea what (we’re) doing.”

He started taking tennis more seriously at 10. He currently plays year-round, mostly at local tournaments during the offseason.

Although he’s a tennis ace, Birns remains focused on his academics.

The junior honors student has a 4.6 grade-point average, and he takes International Baccalaureate classes in history, chemistry, English and economics.

His mom, Olive, and sister, Joanna, also play tennis. Joanna Birns is a freshman soccer and tennis athlete at RMHS.

Sam Birns is active in Spartans for a Cure club and the California Scholarship Federation.

He plays piano, and recently picked up the guitar.

“Sam’s super supportive, and he’s always optimistic,” Crier said. “He’s a great guy and a great tennis player, too.”

And the Spartan can also consume mass quantities of food.

His freshman year, Birns won the Bottomless Pit Award.

“The guy is a voracious eater,” Worthington said. “If there’s food, he’ll eat it.

“He has a racket in one hand and a sandwich in the other. He never met a sandwich he didn’t like.”


The Spartans defeated Pacifica 12-6 on Tuesday.

With the victory, Worthington improved to 564-195 lifetime in varsity boys’ and girls’ tennis matches at Rio Mesa.

RMHS plays Thatcher today at home before travelling to crosstown rival Camarillo on Tuesday.

Multiple Spartans are enjoying fine seasons.

Anthony Baltazar has been a revelation at singles. The freshman hits the ball well from both sides, and he surprises foes with his deceptive power.

“He’s only going to get better,” Worthington said of Baltazar.

Rio Mesa relies on doubles depth to secure team victories.

“Singles gets the glory,” the coach said. “Doubles wins the matches.”

Will Czubiak and Crier form a dangerous duo.

Crier is the quickest player on the team. He’s a senior who “always rises up to the next challenge,” Worthington said.

Czubiak is a solid and consistent junior.

Titouan Durieux and senior Daniel Balderrama join forces at doubles. Durieux is a senior exchange student from Belgium.

Freshman Julian Chow and Branch play well together.

Junior Jason Chua and senior Daniel Whipple also contribute to the squad.

Worthington’s son, Chris, a former RMHS and Sonoma State standout, is an assistant coach.

“No matter who we play, I want our guys to play to their very best with no regrets,” Worthington said.

“We have fun and we can laugh. There’s also a serious side where we focus on the task at hand.”

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