By Jason Haddixâ€©For The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — FRANKTON — Once flying under the radar, the soaring Frankton boys tennis team is now forcing the competition to take notice as it is amidst one of the best seasons in the program's history.
A strong foundation is key when building anything, whether it is a house or a sports team. Frankton coach Brett Sanders began his construction project four years ago.
“The first year I taught at Frankton, (this year’s) juniors were in my eighth-grade science class,” Sanders said. “They heard just about every day as they walked through my door, ‘Did you buy a tennis racket yet?’”
They did, and it is paying off, as Frankton is 14-1 this season. But, it was not an overnight success story. The Eagles have experienced steady improvement during Sanders' tenure. In his first season, the team played to a 5-13 record, then 9-9 and last season 12-5.
“When I first came out here my freshmen year, we didn't have the best record, we just kept progressing,” No. 1 singles player Lucas Bolt said. “I have worked very hard, and I know everyone else has worked very hard. It probably means just as much to all of them as it does to me.”
The senior is one of the leaders Sanders said has set the example for the underclassmen to follow in order to keep success coming Frankton’s way.
“Lucas Bolt works his absolute tail off,” Sanders said. “Everyday in practice he is going to bring his best and work hard. Every Sunday he goes out and hits on his own. He really shows those guys what it means to work hard.”
Bolt is just one of the core group of players that was key to changing a team’s mentality. Sanders praised that core for playing like winners as well as being leaders.
As the players’ mentality changed to one of winning, the records began to reflect the transformation. With the wins mounting, the attitude surrounding the program changed and the confidence grew.
“The first year we were just happy to win one (match),” Sanders said. “The next year we started to believe we could beat some people, to now we go out and expect to win. Changing that whole mentality was a huge hurdle."
The confidence Sanders likes to see in his players may be no more prevalent than that of junior Conner Bates who is 15-0 as the Eagles' No. 3 singles player, the same position he played as a sophomore.
“It has put a lot of pressure on me,” Bates said of being undefeated. “I am playing some pretty tough competition. I just have to go out there and play hard and play my best.”
His best is a big factor for the Eagles' success, as three of the Eagles' victories were by one point. Those results are why Sanders said a team needs depth to be able to be successful.
“Most people think that having a strong No. 1 wins you a lot of matches,” Sanders said. “What really wins you a lot of matches is having a really strong three singles and two doubles.”
While tennis is thought of as an individual sport, there is nothing individual about the Eagles.
“Everybody works well together (in practice),” senior Aaron Korn said. “Everybody tries to make everybody else better and supports each other.”
Korn, the Eagles' No. 2 singles players, is 14-1 thus far with his only loss coming in a three-set match in the team’s only loss against Pendleton Heights.
Where the team aspect really takes hold is in doubles matches.
Sanders said he has seen doubles teams begin getting down when one of the team members misses a shot or has an error. That is not a concern as he points out that both of his doubles teams had friendships before they became playing partners.
Cameron Bates and Blaine Reed make up the No. 1 doubles, while Jeff Biddle and Brady Ashton make up No. 2. Both doubles teams are 11-4
Having defeated Alexandria 4-1 on Monday, two more matches remain before sectional play gets underway. The season’s full story is still being written, but one thing is certain, the Frankton Eagles are giving it their all and playing as a team, for the team.
“We try to take one match at a time,” Sanders said. “I tell them to stay mentally calm and physically aggressive on the tennis court.”