Nation’s Top High School Tennis Teams Compete for National Championship

The DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships is a national invitational high school tennis tournament hosted annually in Chattanooga, TN. The event, which originated in 2008 in Louisville, KY, has hosted thousands of student-athletes from more than 170 different high schools over the last nine years including 100 Team State Champions, 96 Individual State Champions, 59 High School All-Americans and over 150 players that have signed to play NCAA Division I tennis. I will be attending for the second year and will have the opportunity to interview players, parents, coaches, and others involved with this incredible event. Stay tuned for an update early next week!

The 2017 DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships returns to Chattanooga, TN for its 10th Anniversary beginning this Friday. The national high school invitational tournament will feature its largest field in tournament history hosting 64 teams from 13 states. The event will host more than 1,000 matches at various facilities throughout Chattanooga on March 24-25th. The 2017 tournament field includes some of the nation’s top high school tennis programs with 16 defending team state champions and 12 defending state finalists participating in the event. The field also features three former high school tennis All-Americans and more than 30 seniors that have already committed to play collegiate tennis.

The Girls A Division features six defending state champions and a pair of former tournament champions. The field is led by top seed Walton, the 2015 Girls A Division Champions, which is coming off a Georgia Class 6A State Championship. The Raiders are led by 5-star recruit and James Madison University signee Liz Norman and sisters Emily and Grace Gaskins.. Defending Girls A Division Champion Baylor, the second seed in the event, is seeking their fifth tournament championship. The Red Raiders, defending Tennessee Division II Class AA State Champions, return five of their top six players from last season’s team including 2016 Tournament MVP Drew Hawkins, a Belmont signee. The third seed in the event is defending Tennessee Division II Class A State Champion Webb School of Knoxville. The Spartans are led by a trio of 3-star recruits in Lauren Yoon, Carina Dagotto and Audrey Yoon. The fourth seed is Jackson Academy, defending Mississippi Independent School Class 4A State Champions, led by TCU signee Meredith Roberts and 4-star junior Faatimah Bashir. Top players will include 5-star rated freshman Elizabet Verizova (North Gwinnett), 4-star recruit and Indiana signee Michelle McKamey (McCracken County) and Alabama signee and 2016 Hannah Belsinger Spirit of Tennis Award recipient Mallory Gilmer (Etowah).

The Girls B Division features the top three finishers from last year’s Girls B Division. The top seed will be defending Girls B Division Champion, Milton. The Eagles are led by 3-star freshman Juliana Mascagni. The second seed is Tennessee High which is led by 5-star junior Chloe Hamlin. The third seed is Starr’s Mill, 2016 Girls B Division Consolation Winner, led by junior Elena Wernecke. The fourth seed is Riverwood which is led by 4-star junior transfer Elizabeth Goines.

The Boys A Division features a loaded field with eight defending state champions and three former tournament champions. The top overall seed is Spartanburg, defending Boys A Division Champion and South Carolina Class 4A State Champions. The Vikings feature a loaded roster that includes Clemson commit and 2016 Tournament MVP Chambers Easterling and 4-star recruits Spencer Brown and Bryce Keim. The second overall seed is defending Georgia Class 6A State Champion Northview. Senior Jeremy Yuan, a Chicago signee, and high-rated sophomore Gavin Segraves lead the way for the Titans. The third seed is 2016 Boys A Division runner-up Saint Xavier. The defending Kentucky State Champions are led by the duo of Furman signee Drew Singerman and junior Alex Wesbrooks. The fourth seed is Southlake Carroll. The Dragons, led by junior 5-star recruit Arman Dave, finished the fall season ranked 4th in Class 6A in the Lone Star State. Top players will include 5-star junior Nicholas Watson (Catholic), Vanderbilt signee George Harwell (Montgomery Bell), 4-star junior Antonio Mora (Ransom Everglades), 5-star freshman Presley Thieneman (Trinity) and 2016 Hannah Belsinger Spirit of Tennis Award recipient Zachary Elliott (Hinsdale Central).

The Boys B Division is led by Georgia powerhouse Etowah. The Eagles are led by freshman blue-chip recruit Josh Raab and Appalachian State signee Cole Heller. The second seed is Milton led by the duo of juniors Justin Neibert and Benjamin Falk. The third seed is Georgia Class 4A state finalist Carrollton. The Trojans are led by 3-star senior Carver Arant. The fourth seed is Brookwood. The Broncos are led by senior Brooks Berry and sophomore Reuben Dayal. Top Players include 4-star junior Jefferson Hobbs (Niceville), 4-star senior Ryan Olps (North Gwinnett) and 4-star sophomore Cole Brainard (Dunwoody).

The Boys C Division is led by top seed and defending Boys C Division Champions George Washington. The Patriots are led by sophomore Anthony McIntosh. The second seed is DuPont Manual led by senior Erich Endres. Top players include 4-star junior Brooks Green (McGill-Toolen), sophomore Hussain Alzubaidi (Siegel) and 4-star 8th grader Walker Stearns (Saint George’s).

For more information visit the DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships website at www.hstennischampionships.com.

High School Tennis: The Sleeping Giant

The following was written by ParentingAces contributor Bill Patton and posted here with his permission. Please share with any high school tennis coaches in your circle.

High School tennis is the sleeping giant of player development in the U.S.  We know that a small fraction of high school players are going to be college tennis players, a much smaller fraction will be division one college players, and while we believe it’s still always a possibility, very few high school players will become professionals at any level. So why are so many people teaching to this very small segment?  At USATennisCoach we will strive to discover undiscovered talent, but we are much more concerned with helping players to become lifelong players and move their way up to 4.5/5.0 levels.  We also want to help players achieve the dream of playing in college. We want to spur on high school coaches to have a vision for player development that develops character in every player.

One of the largest factors in waking up the giant of high school tennis is the effective leadership of the high school coach. How can high school tennis coaches lead collaboration for the good of educational outcomes of their players, not only on their teams, but also reaching players in their league and region?  It all starts with respect.

USATennisCoach’s founders Styrling Strother, and myself, Bill Patton, have tremendous respect for high school tennis coaches who give so much time and earn so little money for their dedication. We want to show a strong example of collaboration, with articles like this one, to reach those who really care about the health and growth of tennis in the United States and even around the world through team tennis.

So first, we start with self-respect. The coach really needs to know how valuable they are to the process, and create a vision for how they want their program to be. It would be awesome if everyone from the tennis community also showed respect to the coach, simply as a matter of human courtesy. Where anyone would bring the commitment and effort to improve the lives of young people through this sport, those efforts need to be acknowledged.  Recently, I sat with Robert Lansdorp in preparation for writing a book with him. He said something remarkable, “I get these phone calls that say ‘I know you only work with the best but…’, but really I work with anyone who makes the commitment and puts the effort into it.”  So, if the legendary coach who developed 4 players who later became #1 in the world can do that, it’s a great example to anyone. He later told the story of a beginner player who was overweight, who came to him for lessons and 6 months later she made the varsity team on one of the toughest high school teams in the state of California. So, if every stakeholder can look at every other stakeholder and commit to work with anyone else who makes a commitment and effort, that’s the start. What we do with our respect may be a little more uncomfortable.

It can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience to really listen to someone else. More and more we are bombarded with the idea that we should have a message, and that we should use every interaction and social media outlet to spread our message, what’s missing often is listening.  One of the amazing truths that have come from interviewing so many great tennis coaches is that the concept of great coaches being great listeners is the common theme. We need to listen to each other.  I had a parent/coach who was an assistant on a team I was coaching. She was a truly valuable asset. I told Ellen flat out that I can coach 24 players myself no problem, and it works well for the kids and me because then I don’t over coach them.  I let her know that I tend not to delegate.  She was a great observer of the program. At times we agreed that she, as a good 4.5 level player, could be given some assignments to work with a small group of players on a certain shot, or that she could coach them on certain aspects of a strategy.  As it turned out, she showed me tremendous respect by making her comments directly to me and not taking them elsewhere. The role she played was vital to our teams beating two #2 and two #1 seeds in three seasons of playoff tennis, including a sectional title from among 145 schools.  I know I might not have been able to help the team do that without her.

I left that school and I had a chance to be selfish. A new coach took over and he was a casual friend, and a 3.0 level player.  Immediately players were alarmed when they found out the new coach ‘is not a good player’, ‘probably doesn’t know anything’, and they came to me with these comments.  I could have been the arrogant outsider expert. Instead, I told those players, “He is a friend of mine, he is really smart, give him a chance, get to know him, and learn to trust him.”  Why are we ever tempted to undermine someone’s authority?  We would not want it done to us, so why would we do it?  As a result I reached out to the coach, asked him if he wanted me to give him some pointers about the team and who they are and what they do.  He said yes, and I left out the part about them calling me.  So I wrote up an email with a player profile for each player, offering that if he wanted any other assistance I could help as needed. So, for the good of the kids I still cared about, and to help build a relationship with a casual friend, I did that. Where the year before our team had upset a #7, and a #2 seed, his team entered the playoffs as the #1 seed. They followed through and won the section routinely!  Later, at a function, our friend the 3.0 coach was praised publicly in a room full of tennis professionals. He turned toward me and said, “Thank you very much, and the girls and I would like to thank Bill Patton, as the work he did in the previous year along with the incredible handoff made all this possible.”  I was floored.  I did not really want that attention, as in reality the attitude of the coach and the girls were the top factor in their success. I was grateful to receive that praise. The main point here is that when we all put our natural selfish desires aside to truly collaborate, then great things really can happen, and it doesn’t often mean a championship trophy, but a championship of the heart season.

No matter how a team finishes, the essential experience is improvement. Do the coaches, parents and other stakeholders all agree that players should grow as people, improve their game, and become great sportspeople?  That is what is essential. Other essential items are teaching and training in a way that creates the best possible outcomes in such a short season. As referenced above, too many coaches are seeking information about teaching a world-class stroke to players who will never be professional players. What they should do is make that player a better athlete, help them learn mental strength and flexibility, build a team community, and teach strategies and tactics that win at the high school level.  USATennisCoach is valid and relevant in this area. Our materials and testing draw rave reviews for being on target for what coaches really need to succeed.  In fact, many highly seasoned high school coaches who are also certified tennis professionals have been surprised by the shift in philosophy they experienced.

We want to empower all coaches to be the leader of their team programs regardless of whether they play tennis, are a NTRP player who coaches as a hobby, or are seasoned certified Tennis Professionals.  Leaders have vision, create a structure and goals, and then can consult with those who have an area of expertise outside their own to add to the program. I once had a 7 time AAU National Champion wrestler who also won an Olympic medal come and speak to my tennis team about what it takes to be a champion.  I had thought this was a risk to how the kids would view me in comparison, but they loved it.  They loved that I took the time to stop and share someone who was incredible with them.  It cemented my authority with my players.  That year we won the first league title in 26 years at that school.

We know that not everyone is going to collaborate, so we are here for you if you are feeling stuck.  Bill will give a 20-minute coaching session to anyone who wants to discover how to collaborate with a coach within the community of tennis.

USATennisCoach, LLC is a company that educates, certifies, mentors and collaborates with team tennis coaches. Our main thrust in 2016 is to work with high school tennis coaches in the U.S. USATennisCoach@gmail.com 

The True Value of College Tennis

Danny BruceYesterday, the following popped up on my Facebook timeline:

I have dedicated the first part of my life to this sport. It has given me much more than I could ever give back. Through my biggest triumphs and my most painful defeats it has shaped me into who I am today. I have given this sport my blood, sweat, and tears and I have represented Presbyterian College to the best of my ability. I have grown up with tennis as if it were my twin sibling. It has taught me so much about myself and about life, and given me countless life-long relationships along the way. Tennis has shown me deeper understanding of what sacrifice and hard work are capable of producing. We didn’t end the season the way we wanted and I didn’t end my career the way I would have preferred, but I find peace in knowing that I have made life long friends in the process. I love this sport, I love my school and I love my teammates. All of them – past and present. I owe them and my coaches everything that I have achieved on the court and off the court in my 4 years at PC. Being their captain these last two years has been the greatest honor of my life. I would not trade my four years at PC for anything in this world. Thanks to everyone who supports me from all corners of the world, and lastly thank you to my parents with whom I will forever be in debt with. Ready for what’s next. Peace 🎾

It was posted by Danny Bruce, a young man I had the privilege of meeting a little over 5 years ago when my son played his first season of high school tennis. At the time, Danny was a senior, the only one of the 5 seniorsWalton srs on the team who had plans to play at the collegiate level. He and my son quickly bonded, and Danny became a sort-of mentor, agreeing to hit with my son – a scrawny freshman! – during team practices and driving my son home after practice on many occasions. I can only imagine the conversations that went on in the front seat of that truck!

Since that first season, I have periodically run into Danny at various tennis tournaments and events (he came back to Atlanta each summer and helped out his junior coach, Jerry Baskin) and have become friends with his college coach, Adam Herendeen (now the women’s coach at Furman University), who always speaks very highly of Danny. I follow the Presbyterian team on all the various social media outlets, so I knew about Danny’s last match at PC. That outcome makes his words above even more special.

This young man sees beyond wins and losses to the underlying value of his chosen sport. That he is able to express his feelings so eloquently is a true testament to his maturity, his ethos, and his upbringing.

Danny, I know your family is proud. I wish you only good things as you go out into the world and make your mark.

#SaveCollegeTennis

DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships

IMG_6412 - Copy

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a day up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at a very unique junior tennis event: the DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships. Created by Brandon Feusner and run by Brandon and his IMG_6413wife, Nikki, since 2007, this event has grown to over 60 teams representing 14 states around the US. It moved from Kentucky to Tennessee two years ago, and with the incredible volunteer support it receives from the local tennis community, Brandon doesn’t see it leaving Chattanooga any time soon!IMG_6420 - Copy

I hope you’ll listen to the audio interviews below to get a true feel for how great this tournament is! Brandon is very focused on making sure the players and the coaches have an IMG_6421extraordinary experience, providing everything from a Players Party at the Tennessee Aquarium to a full-color tournament booklet, from complimentary snacks throughout each day to sponsor booths and giveaways, from educational sessions to off-court activities. I would love to see this tournament become a template for future events around the country!

IMG_6423
Nikki & Brandon Feusner, Tournament Directors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Feusner Interview

Nikki Feusner Interview

It was very interesting to hear from the players regarding what they value about this tournament and tennis in general as well as their goals after high school:

IMG_6419
Micha, Cherry Creek HS, Greenwood Village, CO
IMG_6417 - Copy
Danny & Michael, Pensacola Catholic HS, Pensacola, FL
IMG_6416
Caroline & Grace, Hutchison HS, Memphis, TN

 

 

Like the players themselves, the coaches also see the great value in this tournament. Here is Cherry Creek Girls Coach, Christin Jacob:

The parents I spoke with were more than happy to make the trip to Chattanooga for this event. Here is dad Peter Nowak from Pensacola, Florida talking about his daughter’s experience:

With so many junior players suffering from burnout and leaving the game by the age of 13, it’s time to think differently about junior competition. Offering more team-based events, like the DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships, would be a step in the right direction. I know Brandon would be happy to speak with anyone interested in creating such a tournament (his contact information can be found here). IMG_6425Both local and sectional USTA offices have recognized the value in Brandon’s work, awarding his tournament two separate awards this past year as Nikki discussed in her interview above.

Thank you to Brandon, Nikki, and their incredible volunteers for stepping way outside the box to provide this unique and much-needed tournament to our kids!

Champions

IMG_4668

I’m not sure how to begin to describe the events of Saturday’s State High School Championships. I’m still reeling a bit from the stress and excitement and relief – I can only imagine how the 14 boys on the Walton team are feeling!

Rather than give a blow-by-blow of the matches, I want to talk about what went on OFF the court that day.

As I mentioned in previous articles, both our girls and boys made it to the State Finals and were scheduled to play simultaneously on Saturday afternoon. Parents, players, and coaches started to make their way to the site a little before 1pm for check in. We set up tables with food and drinks under a stand of trees then all sat around waiting for the earlier matches to finish so our kids could take the court. The fans started arriving shortly afterward – siblings, grandparents, classmates, and former Walton players were all there to cheer for these players. We had quite a crowd building!

Long-time junior coach Jerry Baskin was among those who came out to watch the matches. Jerry has been an integral part of the Walton High School Tennis program for a very long time. He has coached or currently coaches the majority of the kids on both the boys and girls teams and has always taken an active interest in how the teams perform. When the teams were getting ready to take the courts, Jerry gathered all the parents together and gave a very poignant pre-match speech. He reminded us that this might be the biggest match any of our children had ever played, especially for the Seniors on each team. He reminded us that they might struggle under the pressure and that we should continue to cheer supportively no matter what. He reminded us that we were going to win or lose these championship matches with good sportsmanship, respect for the opponents, and a positive attitude. And he reminded us that this might be the last time we get to see our children compete on a tennis court and that we should enjoy every minute of it.

As the kids went on court to begin their warm-ups with their opponents, the parents and other fans searched out viewing spots with some hint of shade. We had 4 courts which meant our 1 and 2 singles and our 1 and 2 doubles would play first. Once the first match finished, the 3 singles would begin. Things started very well for Walton with both doubles matches going our way in straight sets and a one-set lead for our 1 singles (my son) and a one-set deficit for our 2 singles. My son looked to have his match under control, taking a quick 4-0 lead in the second set before his opponent mounted an incredible comeback to take the set 7-5 and force a 3rd. Our 2 singles player mounted a comeback of his own, also splitting sets and going to a third. Meanwhile, our 3 singles player won a very tight first set and was neck and neck in the second. At this point, I had visions of my son closing out his match, clinching the Championship for Walton, and ending his high school tennis career on a very high note.

Those were MY visions but they aren’t what came to pass. Instead, my son’s opponent kept him on the ropes early in the 3rd set and wound up winning the match, putting Northview on the scoreboard. The 2 singles also went to Northview, and now the teams were tied at 2-2. Once again, things were coming down to our 3 singles player.

Everyone crowded around the court, fans of each team loudly cheering on their player. Both players held serve and got to 6-6 in the 2nd set before our player took a big lead in the tiebreaker, finally clinching the match for the Raiders.

That’s how our boys won the first State Championship since 2002 for Walton but it’s not what makes our boys Champions.

What makes them Champions is how they conducted themselves as players and as teammates that day.

Even though our 1 and 2 singles players were unable to close out their matches, they set their personal feelings of disappointment aside to support and cheer on their fellow Raider at line 3, knowing that a team victory would far outweigh their personal defeat. For the boys who weren’t in the lineup that day, they stood by their teammates who were battling on the court and showed their support hour after hour, in the face of both the wins and the losses. And, when Coach Evans came on the court with the Championship Trophy, all the boys shouted for him to give it to Francis, our Line 3 Singles player, to hold in the team photos. They knew Francis had pulled off an amazing win, and they wanted to be sure Francis felt the full appreciation from his teammates.IMG_4675

Then the social media explosion began. Each Raider player – both the boys and the girls – were posting messages and photos to Twitter and Instagram thanking all those who drove an hour or more to support them in the heat and congratulating each other on their mutual accomplishment. It’s the first time since 2002 that one school has swept the Boys and Girls State Championship in the largest (6A) high school division in Georgia. I even saw Instagram comments between my son and his opponent complimenting each other’s play that day. There was nothing disparaging or insulting – only positive messages from the players on both teams. It was refreshing and encouraging to see.

After the match, we celebrated with the boys at our Team Banquet hosted by one of the families in their home. Coach Evans presented each player with his Varsity Letter and a team photo then spoke about how much it meant to him to win the State Championship.IMG_2203 He shared that he has been a high school coach for over 10 years, that his father coached over 30 years, and this was the first State Championship either of them had earned. He went on to talk about all the hard work and sacrifices that go into winning at this level IMG_4682and thanking the players and parents for their willingness to make this happen. We could all tell how proud he was of this group of young men.

And so, with that, another chapter in my son’s Tennis Journey comes to an end. High school tennis is finished. He is playing 3 more junior tournaments over the next few weeks, and then that, too, will be finished. There is still a lot to look forward to, but I think my son will savor this latest accomplishment for quite a while. Earning the title “Champion” alongside such an outstanding group of young men is pretty special.

 

On To The State Final

State Finalists
Uros, Francis, Alex, Kevin, Morgan, Crews, Raymond, Jonathan, Trevor, Jackson, Sam, EJ, Coach Evans

 

The long drive down to Valdosta, GA, is never fun, especially when you have to fight Atlanta rush-hour traffic just to get out of town! But, our Varsity Raiders and Coach Evans had lost the coin toss and had to travel for the team’s semifinal match against Lowndes High School. Everyone headed South after school on Monday so they would have time to rest then get in a good warm up before Tuesday afternoon’s contest. It’s a good thing they did because Lowndes proved to be a much tougher opponent than anticipated.

Coach Evans had looked at the weather forecast and beseeched the boys to hydrate well in preparation for the 90+ degree temperatures they would face Tuesday afternoon. The boys were happy to comply, setting up a game of Hydration Pong at the hotel Monday night. I think Coach Evans was a bit startled when he saw the cups set up, but the boys assured him it was all about hydrating with water and Gatorade and not at all related to a game you might remember from your college days!

The next morning, Coach got the boys up pretty early to eat then head out for a hit. The facility where they played had 12 beautiful hardcourts and stands for viewing – not your typical high school venue.Raiders

As the start time of the match approached, the stands filled up quickly with Lowndes High School fans. Our guys had a small cheering section in comparison, but all the clapping and cheering in the world weren’t going to make the difference this time! Our Raider boys had come to play and to WIN, and they weren’t going to let anything stand in their way.Lowndes fans

The Raiders came out a bit slow, maybe feeling some nerves after traveling all this way to play? But, they quickly got into their collective groove, winning in straight sets at 1 and 2 doubles and 3 singles to take the match 3-0. The 1 and 2 singles were both leading in a 3rd set when Walton secured the win, so those matches were left unfinished. No matter, though. The boys had accomplished their goal: a spot in Saturday’s State Championship Final.

Winning the SemisThe next match will be played about an hour south of our little suburb at a beautiful county park in Clayton. The Raiders’ opponents will be another Metro Atlanta team, Northview High School, that won the Division AAAAA title in 2014 then got moved to Division AAAAAA for this year. That team is filled with several talented tournament players, too, so it should be a great battle for the title! The Raider Girls will also be playing for the championship on Saturday at the same location. Let’s go, Raiders!

 

 

 

On To The Semis!

IMG_4617

It all came down to our #3 singles player, Francis. Walton and Chattahoochee were tied at 2-all, and Francis and his opponent were battling in a 3rd set. Francis had lost the first set pretty handily then regrouped to come out fighting in the 2nd, taking it 6-2. But, let me go back to the beginning . . .

Our coach and the Chattahoochee coach had to flip a coin to determine who was going to be the Home team since both schools were the top seeds out of their respective regions. We lost the flip and had to make the 45-minute drive northeast to Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta. I drove my son and two of his teammates. The guys were relatively quiet on the ride, maybe feeling the nerves inherent in taking on a tough opponent. I tried to stay quiet, too, but my adrenaline was pumping. I was really excited for this one!

Once we arrived on site, Coach Evans got the boys on the court to warm up with each other before their opponents were ready to start the match. Chattahoochee has 4 beautiful courts with bleachers for pretty decent viewing, so the atmosphere was great. Hooch had quite a large cheering section assembled – ours was a little weak due to the distance of the match, but we held our own. It’s amazing how much noise a few parents and tennis players can generate. The Walton roster has 14 players this season, so there are plenty of boys to cheer on the team during any given match.

As I mentioned in my last piece, Hooch has some top-level tournament players in their lineup as does Walton. These were the match-ups (the Walton player is listed first):

1 Singles: Morgan (Sr) vs. Daniel (Soph)

2 Singles: Kevin (Soph) vs. Colton (Sr)

3 Singles: Francis (Jr) vs. Alvaro (Sr)

1 Doubles: Crews (Sr) & Trevor (Jr) vs. Steven (Soph) & Kevin (Soph)

2 Doubles: Jonathan (Sr) & Raymond (Sr) vs. Jaspal (Sr) & Kentaro (Jr)

The two coaches decided to put the 1s and 2s of both singles and doubles on the court first with the 3 singles to start once a court became available.

Kevin at 2 Singles got off to a pretty rough start. Colton was hitting a lot of winners, and Kevin never really found his rhythm. He lost 1 & 2, giving Chattahoochee the first point on the dual match scoreboard.

Morgan finished next at 1 Singles taking out a very tough opponent 2 & 3 and putting Walton on the board. Meanwhile, our doubles teams were both fighting hard.

Crews and Trevor lost the first set 6-4 but battled back to take the second 6-3, keeping Walton’s hopes alive for a 2-1 lead. Jonathan and Raymond were in a battle of their own at 2 Doubles, winning the first set 6-4 and trying to stay on top of the score in Set #2, but their opponents weren’t giving up yet! Our boys finally got a break to go up and have a chance to serve for the match. It took a few tries before they could close it out, and Walton now led 2-1. Just one more match win to move on in the tournament.

All eyes were on Trevor and Crews as they fought hard to stay with their younger and very skilled opponents. Unfortunately for us, Steven and Kevin were able to close out the 1 Doubles with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win and the teams were once again all tied up at 2 a piece.

As soon as the 1 Doubles match finished, everyone moved down to Francis’s court. IMG_4614He was up a double break in the 2nd set, about to close it out and force a third. I found out at this point that, 2 years ago, Francis had also been the “clinch” point for the Raiders in the State tournament. Sadly, he wound up losing that match in 3 sets, a tough experience for anyone. This was his chance for redemption, and his teammates had profound faith in his ability to get the W for the team this time.

Francis broke Alvaro’s serve to start the 3rd set then held to go up 2-0. Alvaro served again, but Francis was in his zone and broke once again then held to go up 4-0. Alvaro held for the first time in this set. 4-1 Raiders at the side change. Alvaro was really trying to get himself back into the match, and Francis seemed to get a bit tight, allowing Alvaro back in with a service break, then Alvaro held again, tightening the score to 4-3. A hold by Francis pushed his lead to 5-3 but Alvaro also held, and the Raiders were now up 5-4 to serve for the match. After having double-faulted several times earlier in the set, Francis stayed so mentally tough serving it out.

The whole Raider team stormed the court, surrounding Francis, cheering loudly, and showing the kind of emotion rare in teenage boys. After shaking hands with their opponents, our boys formed a huddle and finished the evening with one last big “RAIDERS” chant. What a match!

The boys’ next opponents are still unknown. They’ll either play a team from South Georgia or one nearer to home, but we probably won’t find out who until Monday. The State Championship is still two matches away for all four of the schools in contention. As Coach Evans keeps saying, “One match at a time . . .”

 

The State Tournament

ghsa_tennis_200w_trans

15 and 0. That’s my son’s high school team’s dual match record this season. It includes the regular season, regional playoffs, and, now, the first two rounds of the state tournament. The Walton Raiders are undefeated. So far.

Back in January, during team tryouts, my son boldly announced to his coach and the other guys that he thought they could go ALL THE WAY this season. The State Championship: that was the goal. The Walton girls team has won State 13 of the last 15 years. It’s old news for them. But our boys haven’t won a state ring since 2002. It’s long overdue.

High school tennis gets kind of a bad rap around Atlanta. So many of the top tournament kids opt out, either because they’re doing home/virtual school or because they just don’t see the value in it. My own son chose not to play for Walton his sophomore and junior years because he felt it interfered with his training and competition schedule. I get it. But, boy, am I happy he decided to play this year.

During tryouts, the team looked a bit iffy. A few of Walton’s top players didn’t come out. They had decided to focus on their USTA rankings to help with college recruiting just as my son had done the last two years. (Thankfully, Universal Tennis is now including high school tennis results which should help these teams get the tournament kids.) But my son was committed to playing – he had given Coach Evans his word – and he was also committed to taking the State’s highest honor. He reached out to those top guys and explained to them why they needed to play for their school. He told them that winning the Championship was within their reach if and only if they all worked together to get there. He even went so far as to talk to some of the parents. I guess my son got some of my litigator-husband’s negotiating skills because all the boys signed on to play. Walton was poised to make some real noise this season.

Coach Evans has stayed pretty quiet about winning State. The boys and the parents have talked about it, but Coach just keeps saying, “One match at a time.” As the season progressed and the Raiders hadn’t lost a match, Coach Evans stuck to his mantra: “One match at a time.” Even after the guys won the Region 5 title a couple of weeks ago, Coach never changed his approach. “The season starts now,” he announced to the boys. “These next 5 matches are our season. One at a time.”

The next 10 days are Crunch Time. Really, it starts tomorrow afternoon with what could prove to be the Raiders’ toughest challenge of the season. The boys will face another suburban Atlanta team in the quarterfinals, Chattahoochee High School, that is loaded with high-level tournament players. The Cougars only lost one region match and one out-of-region match during the regular season, both when they were missing starting players. Walton, on the other hand, is so deep that our boys were able to clinch the Region title 3-0 even without 3 of our starters including our #1 and #2 singles and one of our #2 doubles. This is a pretty special team.

Whatever happens from this point forward, I think the guys are feeling pretty good about their season. Of course, they are still hungry for that State Title and will fight tooth and nail to win it. During my son’s Freshman year, the Raiders lost in the Semis of the State Tournament. It was a big disappointment, especially for that year’s Seniors. This year’s 4 Seniors, all in the starting lineup, definitely don’t want to see a repeat of their Freshman season. They have that Championship Trophy in their sights and aren’t going to be satisfied until they can put it in the Walton trophy case.

I’ll post an update after tomorrow’s match. Good luck to all our kids playing for their high school teams and GO RAIDERS!

Why My Kid is Playing High School Tennis

Three years ago at this time, my son was in the midst of his high school tennis season. It was his freshman year, and he had made the Varsity squad. He was so excited to have the opportunity to train with his teammates, one of whom had already committed to play college tennis the following year, and compete against the Big Boys from schools all around the state. While there were a few snags along the way, it was a great season for him and for his team. They won the Regional competition and made it to the State Tournament, losing a tough match in the semi-finals.

Despite having such a positive experience, my son decided to forego high school tennis his sophomore and junior years. He felt like the practices and matches detracted too much from his other tennis training, and he wanted to focus exclusively on developing his game to be ready for “recruiting season.” I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t play for his school, but I totally understood the reasons behind that decision and supported him 100%.

When he started his senior year this past August, my son was still a bit iffy about playing for his school. The decision would come down to whether or not he had committed to a college program by the time tryouts rolled around. Thankfully, he DID commit back in November and is now part of his school team for his final year. And the team is really good this year, filled with several high-level tournament players who have decided the State Championship is theirs for the taking. They haven’t played any matches yet, though, because of the crazy weather we’ve had so far this year (the first two matches were canceled due to snow! In Atlanta!), but the team practices are going well, and the boys are pumped up for the season.

Interestingly, high school tennis still gets a bad rap in the Junior Tennis World. I’m part of a Facebook group for High School Tennis Coaches, and one Volunteer Assistant Coach/Parent (click here for a link to his blog) recently posted that he was asked why his daughter was “wasting her time” with high school tennis. His response really hit home for me, so I’m sharing it with all of you in hopes that it will help us all remember the value of playing for something bigger than ourselves . . .

I guess first, my daughter was asked to play on the team. So she felt honored.

She knew (or, thought) she could contribute to an otherwise-mediocre performing team (their past years did not produce good records), and would be proud if she did.

She loves the social aspect of it. As y’all know, tennis can be lonely. It’s not like skateboarding where all the kids in the neighborhood grab their boards and ride around. If you spend a lot of time on the court training and at tournaments, you don’t really meet a lot of kids you hang out with. The only time you (mostly) see them is when you’re on the court. We’ve made several really good friends as families, but distance keeps the kids from just knocking on each other’s doors – “hey, does Alexis want to come out and play?” …By being on the school team, she’s hanging with kids from the community, and of course seeing them at school all day, etc.

The social circle expands as other kids in the school who are non-players become friends and then fans who sometimes come to the school matches.

She loves the “field trip” of going to visit and play at another school. After one recent away game, the team stopped at Subway for a bite. For some reason, she came home saying it was “the best field trip” (hopefully not so much for the Subway lol as for the interaction during the trip).

There’s an ego thing if she does win, she feels good.

WE love that it gives her exposure to other environments that she normally wouldn’t get. She goes to a public school of middle class working folk. Their team plays mostly very expensive private schools. So she gets to experience people and communities in their own worlds, which can teach a lot.

I like that she gets to experience going into a “hostile” environment, when they play away at another school, which adds another level of pressure to the competitive landscape. Playing in a USTA tournament, it’s pretty much neutral ground. But when you’re a visiting team – think any professional sport, where you get home advantage – there’s added stress to work through.

I think exposure to the other coaches at the other schools is a good thing, but I have no idea if I’m correct there.

And I think playing team tennis could help if and when she is considering playing college tennis. But I don’t know if it’s at all a factor college coaches look at. But being part of a team, knowing that her Win is not just an individual win but can help the whole team win….that’s both another level of pressure and a worthy goal.

Having said all that, she IS missing out on some hours with her private coach, and playing less USTA tournaments. So there is a downside, but I think a few weeks here and there (she also takes time off to play on the rec soccer league) is outweighed by the benefits of being on the team.

I would love to hear from y’all about your child’s experiences playing high school tennis. Has it been positive? If so, why? If not, please share details! Overall, for those junior players who want to play college tennis, I think playing at least one year of high school tennis can be very beneficial, if for no other reason than to expose them to the concept of playing for something bigger than themselves. For those players who do not have college tennis aspirations, it makes perfect sense to me for them to engage in their sport at the high school level, if for no other reason than to showcase their talent among school peers.

Here’s to a great season for all our high school players – GO RAIDERS!

USTA Addresses High School Tennis

469372_223745794398015_495398395_o
As I wrote in my last post, I had the opportunity to attend a couple of sessions of USTA’s Tennis Development Workshop this past weekend. The first had to do with junior tournaments, and the second had to do with high school tennis. It was led by Glenn Arrington, USTA’s national manager of the Tennis On Campus program.

Glenn started the session by having everyone in the room take a pop quiz (which I failed miserably!). It included questions about how many high school tennis players there are in the US (the answer for 2012-13 is 338,363 in case you’re interested), the number of state high school associations that sponsor individual and team state championships (15 is the correct answer), and the percentage of high school tennis players who go on to play varsity tennis in college (6% – not too many!). For the record, the state with the highest number of high school tennis players, not surprisingly, is California. What is surprising is that Florida ranks 11th on that list.

Glenn then asked the room to offer reasons why high school tennis is important. Among the answers were because tennis is a life-long activity, high school tennis provides an opportunity for those kids who started playing at a young age to continue playing competitively, and that it’s a way to transition the individual nature of tennis into a team sport. All great answers.

We learned that the USTA is looking to increase the awareness and visibility of high school tennis, to connect with and reward high school tennis coaches, and to improve the quality of high school coaching by providing useful resources. Our governing body is working to develop year-round, off-season playing opportunities for high school players to keep them engaged in tennis and then to provide the linkage to college tennis opportunities.

Workshop participants worked in small groups to come up with a list of who benefits when high school tennis participation increases and how. Players benefit through more competitive opportunities, more year-round play, having an identity on campus, and gaining leadership opportunities. Schools benefit when their program is successful through recognition in their community and from younger students aspiring to play at that high school. They can also benefit when their recruiting reputation is positively impacted by the tennis team. Other beneficiaries include public facilities, coaches, parents, teaching pros, and manufacturers.

The next challenge was coming up with a list of how to grow off-season opportunities for high school players. There are so many obstacles to growing the game, especially for high schoolers, that it becomes a big challenge to work beyond those road blocks. When asked to list some of the barriers to growing the game, here are a few things that came up: cost, competing with other sports/activities, making tennis more time-effective, keeping courts accessible in the off season, and restrictions on high school coaches. We need to look at creating regional and national championship tournaments for high school teams and making it easy for the players to register. We need to look beyond our traditional tournament structure and think outside the box to engage these kids – maybe have co-ed matches or other innovative formats like hiring a DJ to play music and create more of a party atmosphere.

Glenn concluded the session by challenging everyone to think about who they could partner with in their community – existing high school coaches, local retail representatives, a DJ whose child plays tennis, the state high school athletic association – to build more opportunities to keep our high school team players engaged once the season is over. USTA is looking at these 300,000+ high school players as a great resource to grow the game outside the traditional junior competition structure.

So, does your child play for his or her high school? Do teammates play junior tournaments or do they hang up their racquets once the season is finished? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments below!