By Tommy Keeler Jr. - email@example.com
STEPHENS CITY -- Chris Mikus has been a quiet, steady force for Sherando's boys tennis team for the last three years.
With his solid groundstrokes, an improving lefty serve, and ability to run down ball after ball, the junior has made an impact in the Warriors' program. But one of the things that sets him apart from others is his ability to stay calm under pressure and not be distracted during a match.
"Like any good thing, it comes with lots of time and lots of practice," Mikus said of his composure. "It's always been there, but it's made itself present in the last couple years."
Part of his composure comes from an understanding of what it takes to win on the court. Mikus has had a lot of wins for the Warriors, and is undefeated at No. 2 singles this season.
Mikus is a thinker, and his ability to use his head to his advantage out on the court has paid big dividends for him.
"You come out there and you try to figure out your opponent, and figure out where his weaknesses are and play there, and he does that," Sherando coach Steve Jennings said. "He figures out his opponents very well."
Mikus said he started playing around 10 years ago, when his parents encouraged him to try it. He lives near Stonebrook Racquet and Fitness Club, and began playing there and taking lessons.
Over the years, his love for the game began to grow. Mikus said he loves many aspects of the game.
"I like the competitiveness of it, obviously," he said. "It's a very civil sport. Strategy and athleticism all weave together. It's just as much a mental game as it is a physical one."
Mikus made the top six as a freshman, playing at No. 6 singles, and had a very successful season.
"It was definitely a big step for me," Mikus said. "I wasn't sure what to expect when I entered ninth grade at first. It was a very positive experience. I really enjoyed it."
Mikus said it was also at that point that his love for the game really grew.
"That's when I really began doing tournaments and stuff out of high school," Mikus said. "It really became competitive -- you get to play kids from other high schools. And it helped towards your school's record as well as your own. It was a motivation to improve your game and get better. That's when it became a big part of my life."
Last year he moved to the No. 4 singles spot and didn't miss a beat. He was dominant at the spot and helped the Warriors win yet another Northwestern District regular-season title.
Mikus said his game continued to grow through the experience of playing at a higher level.
In his first two high school seasons, Mikus was also on the Sherando swim team, but this year he decided to give it up so he could focus on tennis.
So far, it's paid off for him. Mikus has once again been very strong in singles and doubles.
Mikus said he tries to practice at Stonebrook as much as he can, working with Stonebrook head pro Jon Prenelle, and also with Winchester Country Club head pro Jim Scott.
Scott's son, Trey, plays at No. 1 singles for the Warriors and is Mikus' doubles partner at No. 1 doubles this year.
It's the first time the pair have played together, but they've done very well, losing only once to Handley.
"We had never played doubles, even on the team, before this year," Mikus said. "Being able to pick up on the dynamic this quickly has been great. It's better than I could have hoped for. I think the dynamic and the communication between us is good.
"He can always step in there and pick up where I might be lacking during a point. I try to do the same for him."
Mikus has also had a new teammate this season who is very familiar with -- his brother Nik.
"It's certainly different," Chris Mikus said. "He's come a long way, too, in just this year alone. And I've been able to, on a more personal level, witness that growth and maturity in him. It's been great just watching him, and also getting to know him that much better.
"Even though we know each other on a very personal level at home, it's also great to get to spend even more time with him at school on a team where we're working to achieve the same goals."
Sherando (11-5) is hosting Millbrook today in the Northwestern District semifinals today at 3 p.m. If Handley wins its semifinal match, then the winner of the Sherando-Millbrook match will advance to the Region II tournament. Sherando has advanced to regionals five consecutive years.
The Warriors lost two key players from last year's squad in Kaleb Nguyen and Nick Lee. Despite having a lot of inexperienced players, the Warriors have still managed to have a very solid season.
"I think our team has all the capacity to pull it out and win the district [tournament] title," Mikus said. "I certainly hope for it, but whatever will be, will be. As long as everyone has fun, with good sportsmanship, I'll be happy no matter what the outcome is."
Either way the rest of the season goes, Mikus said he's just happy to be playing the sport he loves, a sport he hopes to play for a very long time.
"I feel like all the work and effort that I've put into it so far, I hope that it will pay off in that I've found a lifelong sport that I can pursue for the rest of my life," Mikus said. "It's definitely something that I want to continue as long as I possibly can."