At the level of ethnography, tennis tournaments are always interesting. Tennis is obviously being played, but a lot of other things are going on as well. This was especially true at the high school level.
First, I seem to bump into people I know at any tennis tournament I attend. This is true at the Masters Cincinnati event in which I have no idea who will be there, but at high school events, I get to see coaches from schools faced this year or in years past. Bumping into parents, coaches, and players in the tennis community is always a welcome event. I ran into the mother of a former student who I interviewed for this site, the former coach of the University of Kentucky who ran tennis camps I attended as a teen, and coaches who I have known for years. All of these conversations were a lot of fun, and I saw others around me having similar experiences. Tennis tournaments are like an extended family reunion for the tennis community.
Getting to meet the coaches of Ashland Paul Blazer High School and South Laurel High School was a real treat. Eddie Sizemore of Ashland spoke with glowing pride about coaching state-singles runner-up Robby Krick as he recalled teaching his star player lessons for the better part of a decade and could remember the first tournament Krick entered. Those bonds make coaching matter. They also remind me of the joy that I have had ever since become a first-time coach in 2003.
Saint Xavier’s 12th-grade players Will Stuckert, Alex Westbrooks, and Preston Cameron each had won team titles as St. X had won 9 consecutive team titles before claiming its 10th consecutive state title. Westbrooks and Stuckert had not won a state title at the singles or doubles level prior to 2018. Preston Cameron had won two-consecutive doubles titles. It was impressive to see both Stuckert and Westbrooks breakthrough for their victories. Westbrooks overcame some late-season injuries to grab regional and state singles titles. Stuckert played the best tennis of his strong season in the championship doubles match. Top-level Tennis requires a lot of athleticism, conditioning, and technique, but winning still requires making a mental step that is not always easy to take. Stuckert held serve to interrupt a 5 game winning streak by Trinity and hit big returns in the second set tiebreak to jointly take the step toward the state title with Preston Cameron. Westbrooks showed a lot of courage in playing through pain in winning the state singles title.
Elite Players and Differing Demeanors
It is interesting to see how players approach winning and losing big points. Among the top 4 seeds in singles, there were different approaches. Some players only pumped themselves up after good shots but never went negative after missed shots. Some players were exceptionally boisterous after hitting winners. Others were demonstrative after missed shots. I am not sure if there was one approach that was best as I could see that each approach at times helped the player being observed. Generally, I think a lot of demonstrative behavior is a waste of energy, but there were times that pumped fists and “come on!”s seemed to really aid a player. I don’t think being vocally negative tends to help a player.
- A majority of players drank Pedialyte at changeovers. It makes sense, but I had not seen this habit in action. As a parent, I always use Pedialyte for upset stomachs so it was quirky to see even if it is a good electrolyte.
- State semifinal and final matches feature a chair umpire who can be consulted on close line calls, but it is pretty amazing that high school championships are largely peacefully decided by players making line calls.
- Lexington, KY is quite easy to navigate in terms of its downtown area and the University of Kentucky campus. I can’t say if it is easy to navigate in terms of any sprawl that may exist.
- The indoor tennis facility at the University of Kentucky had not changed much since I had so many fond memories there in the 1990s. It has 4 nice indoor courts, but it is likely a bit outdated for what SEC tennis requires today. It is set to be replaced in 2019. Winning all 3 events was a nice way for St. X to close the building down in terms of its high school use.
- The veggie wraps at the state tournament had dubbed turkey a plant as I accidentally ate a bite of meat for the first time since 2005.
- Google maps told me to take a different route out of Lexington due to construction slowing traffic down. The greater Lexington area has many lovely horse farms that may be worth visiting if one likes those sort of vistas. I liked passing the Australian Equine Performance Center in the heart of Kentucky. Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi! Y’all?
A Long Wait for a State Title
Kentucky has only been running a team championship for 37 years. 27 of those years saw St. X grab the team title. I played for St. X, but Trinity had some excellent teams during those years so I was part of a number of state runner-up squads. It was nice to hold a state title for a moment after the tennis playing ended.
The Future of the Sport
The final Saturday of a state championship gives people a glimpse of the top level at which tennis is being played by young people. All of the semifinalists in singles and doubles were talented players who produced a great brand of tennis. Tennis doesn’t seem as popular among young people in Kentucky as it once did, but the top level players are still excellent. I will write more about this in the future, but I loved seeing so many talented players push so hard for victories. I hope that more young people will take up the sport, and they have plenty of good role models based upon the state semifinalists who were in action.
— KHSAA Main (@KHSAA) May 19, 2018