Evan Griffith returns a ball in a Mt. Zion Boys Tennis Practice.
By BLAKE FAITH
Last season, the Mt. Zion boys tennis team won the Apollo Conference championship, a sectional championship and sent a doubles team to the State Championship. This year, the Braves hope to repeat, but also send a singles player or two to state.
Head coach Mike Roberts said that he is very optimistic after the first couple weeks of practice and losing big seniors in his No. 1 and No. 2 singles slot in Lane Fehrenbacher and Rylee Gower. With no incoming freshman, the team has returned a number of seniors and sophomores and a transfer student. The team worked on positivity on the court and rolling from one point to the next with a positive mentality.
“We’re older, but we’re also younger, but we’ve got some pretty decent talent especially on the varsity lineup, as good as we’ve been in the past,” Coach Roberts said. “So, that’s always a worry. You know, you go from one year to the next year and there’s times I’m losing my two best players and then all of a sudden people step up.”
Those players have been seniors Evan Griffith, transfer senior Mason Clark and junior Will Shade.
“Evan played number five for me last year, but this year he’s my senior and he’s one of my captains,” Coach Roberts said. “I really think he’s wanting to step into a top one, two role on the team and to tell you the truth, from what I’ve seen from him this year, he’s coming into this season ready to take that role. And then you have my, my junior over here in Will and Will has always been, he’s a very steady player and I he defined that as I call, call him a panther. He will sit and, and he’s just so steady and so then when you make a mistake, he will pounce and just shred you. He’s not super aggressive, but. People take him as patient and very laid back, but man, when you make a mistake, he capitalizes on it and he’s really good at it. He’s just really good at it. Evan is much more of an aggressive player. He’s just an aggressive player, kind of like Lane.”
Coach Roberts looks to his upperclassman and captains to take the team and lead by example, especially when they have a lot of guys who haven’t played before at the varsity level and it helps when his players are approachable like they are.
For Griffith, being a captain makes him feel like a leader and he has been encouraging people and likes that his team is very competitive and has been bringing them together. An individual goal for Griffith is to make it back to state with his doubles partner and team goal is to win the conference again. Griffith wants his memory to be remembered as a positive example and be recreated and carried on in the next few years of the program.
For Shade, being a captain as a junior means a lot to him and it is something that he honors. Him and Griffith are really good friends and that helps them lead the team. Shade’s individual goal for this season is to make it to state in doubles and his team goal is to win the sectional.
Mason Clark is a transfer senior from Amory, Mississippi. There he was a three-time individual state qualifier. Clark hasn’t had a chance to be a leader on this team, but wants to make it into one of the top-five spots as well as compete for a sectional championship. Clark thinks it would be remarkable and a good impression if he is remembered by his teammates and coaching staff after only playing for the Braves for one season.
This year, the Braves hold the sectional boys tennis meet at Fairview Park which has created excitement for Coach Roberts, his entire team and the area.
“Listen, it has been, we are, we are so excited and, and you gotta say something about it for the area as a whole, because, not only hosting a sectional, we’re gonna be at Fairview Park,” Coach Roberts said. That affects, uh, LSA, that affects Maroa-Forsyth( that affects now Eisenhower, they’re in a different class. But the local area and people who play tennis will have an interest in coming to see some of these high school kids, because I know a lot of those, I know a lot of those people and a lot of them have had kids that have come up through this program and so it’ll be nice. This is a big deal to have the sectional here and don’t believe that they’ve had a sectional here since the nineties boys tennis for boys or girls. I know that Chuck and Corey at the Decatur Athletic Club and Decatur Park District, they’re really excited about us. We’re excited about it too, about hosting the Sectional.”
This year Coach Roberts believes that his team will be in Apollo Conference contention and back in contention for both that title and sectional titles, but both will require hard work and consistency along with responsibility.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with, you know, you, you are the reigning champions. You’ve got a target on your back and you’ve always got a target on your back and you can’t take anything for granted,” Coach Roberts said. “I’m going to try and build that into our, kind of into our culture this year too, that listen, just because you’re good doesn’t mean that somebody’s not out to get you. I know that t year we won the sectional up there, but you know what winning a sectional title is everybody’s gotta be clicking on all cylinders and then it’s not just about the guys you qualify for state. You’ve gotta have everybody else on your team at that sectional who’s contributing to the point count too. I mean, it’s one thing to go, I’ve had lots of guys qualify for state, but it’s a whole nother thing to win the sectional. So yes, that’s gonna be a goal for us again this year, coming back as reigning champions, but I will tell you that teams like Morton are coming back with a lot of talent just like we are, you know, they were a young team last year, so, that’s gonna be something that, that we’re gonna have to work at if we’re gonna, if we’re gonna repeat as sectional champs.”
The Braves will start their season at the Triad Tourney this weekend. Coach Roberts’ overall message to readers and the community is to come out and support this team.
“We have great guys and they play really great tennis and they’re a lot of fun to watch,” Coach Roberts said. “They’re a lot of fun to watch. Um, and it’s, we’re gonna have a great season.”