Defying the odds: LaGrange makes elite eight run despite losing two of its best players
Published 8:20 am Thursday, April 27, 2023
The LaGrange boys tennis team has put together quite the run despite the constant shuffling of pieces during the season. The Grangers lost their no. 1 singles player Pierce Manning to Duquesne University to early enrollment in the fall before the season even started and during the season they lost their top doubles player — Greg Terry — part way through the season as he focused on his water skiing career. The players that were left picked up the pieces and have helped the program achieve a quarterfinal appearance in the AAAA state playoffs.
“We have performed pretty consistently this season, which has really helped,” senior Henry Huberdeau said. “We have settled in and found a lineup that works. We have a bunch of guys that have a good shot at winning any time we are on the court.”
The team regrouped and found a way to put together a late run despite the obstacles they faced. A second place finish in region 4-4A was not what was expected from this team but over-performing expectations has been their motto this season.
“I don’t think any of us really thought we would make it as far as we have this year,” senior Wesley Minicozzi said. “We have really come together, and it has been pleasantly surprising.”
The seniors have had to buckle down and help lead a young team trying to find their footing.
“A lot of us have been part of the team for a while now and know how to play together,” senior Collin Jeffries said.
The departures have led to members of the team taking on a new role as well. For some this was a dramatic shift, while for others, it was about taking on more difficult opposition.
“It has been crazy going from expecting to play no. 2’s to being the no. 1 player and having to carry more weight,” Minicozzi said. “I haven’t had to do that this year because I have such amazing teammates.”
Minicozzi did not find out he would be moved up the pecking order until right before the pre-season got going for LaGrange.
“Freshman and sophomore year I was no. 2 doubles, and my junior year I moved up to no.1 doubles,” senior Towson Partin said. “Greg Terry was my partner last year and some of this year and now it is Kevin (Park) and you have to make it work with whoever your partner is.”
Park is just a sophomore, which is a full circle moment for Partin, who partnered with a senior when he was in his second year in high school.
The players all come from different tennis backgrounds with some of them joining the team late in their high school career while others are tennis lifers. This eclectic group of guys has the Grangers making another deep playoff run.
“I didn’t even know how to hit the ball when I first came out,” Jeffries said. “Now I know how to put a good stroke on the ball.”
Huberdeau comes from a tennis family but did not take up a request with the Grangers until his junior year. In his first year, he was a doubles player, but upon encouragement from other players and coaches, decided to branch out and become a singles player this year.
“People kept telling me I would be better at playing singles and force some kids to break racquets,” Huberdeau said, flashing a grin.
At the helm is coach Kenny Moore, who eclipsed the 900 win mark as a head tennis coach earlier this season and inspires his guys in ways few coaches can do.
“Coach Moore is awesome,” Partin said. “He’s been my tennis coach for the past four years, he’s my Sunday school teacher and my calculus teacher, so I have been around him a lot and we have a lot in common.”
This year’s run is far from over for the Grangers. After completing a dominant upset over higher seeded Bainbridge on Tuesday, the team has eyes on continuing this run. It will not get easier for the Grangers as they are set to take on Holy Innocents on the road in the quarterfinals — a team that has not dropped a match in the playoffs. LaGrange faces its toughest test yet in the Golden Bears, who are the single A private runner-ups.
In a season full of doubt and obstacles, the Grangers have continued to find ways to overcome them. These four seniors have been instrumental in that, but they have had some help. Jaehan Seol serves as Jeffries doubles partner while Partin partners with Park. No. 2 singles player Noah Black, a sophomore, plays an important role as well.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Grangers have proved themselves amongst the elite teams in AAAA this year, and with any hope, that Cinderella run will not be ending in the elite eight.