Bruised and Battered but Still Fighting, Tennis Heads to Regionals and State
It’s been a rough year for the Blue Jay tennis team. Graduation, transfers, injuries–you name it, this group has dealt with it.
Flashback to May of 2016 and the team has just won its ninth consecutive state championship by a razor-thin one-point margin over favored Catholic of Baton Rouge. Literally everything went right that year for the Jays, including an extraordinarily fortunate draw at state. But most important, to a man, team members played their best tennis when it counted most.
Since then, just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. The Jays were hit hard by graduation, losing their top three players, two of whom–Brandon Beck and Jacob Niehaus–would go on to play college tennis as teammates at Millsaps. Catholic, meanwhile, kept the core of its team intact.
Then, freshman phenom Welsh Hotard opted to leave Jesuit for the Newcombe Tennis Academy in Texas.
Those who remained on the roster have kept the trainers busy. Senior Trey Hamlin, the team’s best doubles player, missed the entirety of the fall season with a nagging back injury. Senior Luke Lingle, expected to be a key cog on one of Jesuit’s state doubles entries, suffered a season-ending torn biceps. And freshman JoJo Sandoz, the team’s Line 2 singles player, missed significant time in the spring season nursing a variety of soft-tissue injuries.
“We’ve certainly seen our share of adversity this year,” acknowledged coach Travis Smith. “But the guys sure haven’t quit.”
Far from it. Indeed, the Jays played their best tennis of the season as a team on April 6, defeating Brother Martin 4-3 in a hotly contested dual meet with the district championship on the line.
The Jays are hoping the momentum from that match carries over into regional competition, which begins on April 18 at the City Park/Pepsi Tennis Center.
Competing in singles play for Jesuit will be Sandoz and senior Graham Buck. In doubles, Hamlin will team up with senior Jack Steib as Jesuit’s top-ranked entry. Jesuit’s Line 2 doubles team is comprised of a pair of juniors, Andrew Ryan and Christian Lacoste. At Line 3, senior Leo Seoane will partner with freshman James Henican.
Selecting the eight players who compete at regionals from among Jesuit’s 19-man varsity roster is a tricky business and requires factoring in a host of variables. The ultimate goal is to get as many seeds as possible, with a premium placed on securing higher seeds, especially one and two seeds.
“It’s fairly complicated,” explains Smith.”But suffice it to say that entering state as a regional champion or finalist gives a player a tremendous advantage. Entering state as a semifinalist provides a significant advantage. And entering state as a quarterfinalist, especially given the new format of the state draw that was adopted this year, is tough sledding.”
To get those coveted seeds for the regional tournament, two key factors come into play. There are head-to-head wins in regular season dual meet play (the most critical factor in the seeding process) and USTA ranking points (which are the secondary criteria).
Two critical head-to-head wins during the regular season strengthened Jesuit’s hand in the seeding process. The first was Graham Buck’s win over the higher-ranked Allen Miller during the Jays’ dual meet with St. Augustine. Then there was a win by Lacoste and Ryan over Brother Martin’s Line 2 doubles team of Corey Canzoneri and Christopher Russo.
“We built our regional entry around those two wins,” explains Smith. “We went into the process expecting to get a No. 3 and a No. 4 seed in singles, along with the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 4 seeds in doubles.”
But Brother Martin threw a wrench into that thinking, surprising a lot of folks by opting to pair up their top two singles players, one of whom is defending regional singles champion Ben Chanes, as a doubles team. The end result: the Jays got the top two seeds in singles, along with the one seed (Steib/Hamlin), three seed (Lacoste/Ryan) and five seed (Seoane/Henican) in doubles.
“I don’t think it really affects our chances much either way,” says Smith. “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how the table is set. You have to eat.”
And while the Jays may be bruised and battered, they are hungry.
“My guys aren’t going down without a fight,” says Smith. “We know the odds are against us. But I believe in my guys. We’re ready for the challenge.”