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Draper Journal

Juan Diego boys tennis newcomers finish season

May 17, 2018 02:00PM ● By Catherine Garrett

The Juan Diego Catholic High School boys tennis team were on the court with two new coaches this season. (Photo courtesy Marisa Smith)

By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]           

Juan Diego Catholic High School sophomore Sam Nelson qualified for the state tennis tournament for the second year in a row — this time playing at No. 1 singles as Region 11’s second seed. On May 11, he lost in the first round to Pine View’s Mitchell Wade 6-2, 6-4 at Liberty Park. 

“I feel like making state this year was kind of a feat in itself,” said Nelson, the team captain. “I didn’t exactly make it as far as I would have liked, but I’m not too upset because I’m just glad I got to go. I ended up losing to a tough opponent and I’m hoping to go back next year and hopefully make it further in the tournament.” 

“I was very proud of Sam at state,” head coach Marisa Smith said. “His opponent was extremely tough and Sam was down 0-4 in the second set, but he didn’t give up. He dug deep and won the next four games in a row. It’s a great experience for him to be there among mostly upperclassmen who are the best players in the whole state of Utah. If he continues to improve like he has, I could see him winning it next year. He is an extremely powerful hitter with crazy top spin abilities.” 

With just eight returning players from a year ago, the JDCHS boys tennis team was set to welcome new faces to the squad this season. But Smith was surprised that the 12 newcomers had never played the sport before, including multi-sport athlete Conner Turner, who has been playing at the No. 3 singles spot.

“We have been so impressed with these boys,” Smith said. “They are so eager to learn and their skills are improving rapidly. Conner is a seasoned football player for Juan Diego, and as you will see from his tennis skills, an all-around great athlete.” 

Smith and assistant coach Ellyn Bennet focused on goals, team chemistry and mental strength training as they evaluated their talent level to begin the season, and the coaching duo began continually teaching the game for players with all skill sets.

This season, Juan Diego defeated Judge 3-2 and Ben Lomond 5-1 while losing to Timpanogos 5-0, Park City 5-0, Tooele 5-0, Stansbury 5-0, Ogden 5-1 and Bonneville 6-0.

The varsity lineup at regionals — where all spots made it to the second day — were Nelson (No. 1 singles), Turner (No. 2 singles), Hawk Chen Hua Change (No. 3 singles), Brennan Savage/Matt Kaiser (No. 1 doubles) and Trent Zaffino/Tristen Tonozzi (No. 2 doubles).

“We made a lot of improvement this year,” Nelson said. “When we started off the year, I was not sure how we’d do. But, everyone came a long way.”

Also on the JDCHS team this season were Aldedge Chen (Ruizhe), Miguel Flores, Mikey Gatti, Layth Hawatureh, David Hulverson, Gage Killion, Sam Knudsen, Nathan Rakowski, Graham Skirucha, Alec Wagner, Daniel Welch and Jared Zhu.

“Overall, I believe we had a successful season,” Smith said. “We are rebuilding the team with many players being new to the sport, but we still qualified all varsity to go to regionals and then they all got to the second round. I was very happy with that.”