Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sheer and Savage Players: Edition 1

New series again for the month of July, highlighting players who played with sheer and savage joy. For these posts, I'll be choosing players who were teammates that gave the team the balance of sheer and savage joy. Each post begins with a definition, then proceeds to tell the stories of joy!


“There is a point in tennis, when I thrust aside as irrelevant all thoughts of point and games and sets, 
and am absorbed instead in the sheer and savage delight of swinging at a moving target.”
- Mark Rowlands, Tennis with Plato

1. unmixed with anything else
2. unqualified, utter
Synonyms: mere, simple, pure, unadulterated

1. fierce, ferocious, untamed
2. unpolished
3. wild and rugged
Synonyms: wild

1. a state of happiness
2. a foretaste of all things made right
Synonyms: rapture, bliss, delight

SHEER JOY: Michael Steury


RESULT: Turned the program around.

Michael and Joel were the perfect, if unlikely, pair to turn a struggling program into a thriving one. First of all, they enjoyed one another's company. They were the beginning of bringing brotherhood to the Bethany program. But their backgrounds were very different in tennis, and were important in bringing balance to the program as well.

Joel was a competitor. A basketball player, a baseball pitcher, he played a sport every season and captained all of the teams. He often said that practice was his favorite part of any season, because it was the only part where he didn't get any break at all. Which he enjoyed.

On the tennis court, he was a screamer. He had played varsity his freshman year, competing at #1 doubles. I don't know how well he did, I don't have records from that season. But when I took over as coach beginning his sophomore season, it was obvious that he was going to compete for the #1 singles spot. He had athleticism and talent.

I have several favorite match memories of Joel. The first was at Triton during his sophomore season. He was playing #2 singles and the team match was tied 2-2 as he went into a third set. With that pressure, Joel fell behind 2-5 in the third set. His opponent needed only 4 more points to seal a team win for the Trojans. I told him to build some positive emotion, and in the next game the trademark "C'mon!" was born. After every point he won, he clenched his fist and yelled toward his teammates gathered by the fence. With this untamed emotion, Joel's game picked up and he overwhelmed his opponent, winning the next 5 games straight to seal a remarkable team victory.

Just as intense was his anger at me that first year when we played Fort Wayne Canterbury. Our #1 player, Colin Yoder, also played soccer and had a game that night. I told him to go to the soccer game because we'd probably lose to Canterbury anyways. Canterbury, by the way, is usually state ranked. Joel was so upset that I was accepting loss, that as he moved up a position to #1 singles, he still pushed his Canterbury opponent in a 5-7, 4-6 loss.

Or when in his senior season, he played his home school district of Concord and had an opportunity to win his match at #1 singles. Cramping in the third set, I told him that one more cramp and I had to call the match. So he made it through the rest of the match and won! Afterwards, I told him that I was glad he hadn't cramped again. He told me, "Matt, I was cramping every two points but I told myself to turn away from you and not scream, not fall down, so that you would let me finish." That is a savage, competitive player!

In contrast to Michael Steury, who didn't start his journey on the team as a supreme competitor. Instead, he had become friends during his freshman year with guys on the team and decided to try it sophomore year. On our team of 13, he was #12 his freshman year. But he loved the game. That Spring Break I remember that we both went to Sarasota to visit our grandparents, and he invited me over to play tennis just because it was fun.

As he played, he got better. A lot better. By junior year, he was playing varsity. From beginner to varsity in one season isn't bad. In a down season, he was one of only two lineup spots to end the year with a winning record. And then senior season, he nailed down the #1 doubles spot. And he became a joyful leader of the team as well.

He led team cheers, screamed encouragements during team games like Defenders and Two Ball, and lived for the glorious times when he could use his strengths. His face would light up when it was his turn to serve, or if someone popped up a lob and he was under it for the smash.

In his last match of his career, we had drawn Jimtown at Sectional. Jimtown had a doubles team, twin brothers, who would qualify for the doubles state finals. And we played them first round. Michael smiled and said, let's do it. With fist pumps and pumped up serves, Michael and partner Jordan Kauffman shocked the twins in the first set, taking a 7-5 set win. And although they couldn't hold it, it was that sheer joy that led them through the attempt.

These guys were the first of many models of sheer and savage tennis for Bethany Christian. Their teammates could look at them for competitive models and I've been pointing to their attitudes for years since. I often say that their leadership helped lay the foundation for our Sectional title three years after they graduated. They played loose, they played hard, they played sheer and savage tennis.

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