By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- When the spring season first started, Sherando boys tennis coach Steve Jennings wasn't sure what to expect from his very young squad. As the season went on, Jennings watched his team blossom into a very respectable team.
"We moved around a lot and found where my lower four kids needed to be, and how they needed to be," Jennings said. "And after we moved them around and watched them play, I worked with them a lot. They developed and grew, and their games got better. And they got more self reliant on their game. and I think that helped a lot."
Jennings, the Northern Virginia Daily's 2013 Boys Tennis Coach of the Year, said the kids were dedicated to getting better. He said they even wanted to go outside and practice in 14-degree weather early in the season.
One of the things Jennings emphasizes with his players is having good footwork.
"We spent a lot of time working footwork drills and the form of hitting the ball," Jennings said. "I tell them when you get tired the first thing that goes is your form, so if you're tired you gotta have even better footwork so that you're in position so you don't make those stupid mistakes."
Jennings said he started playing tennis in college and has been playing ever since. He started out as an assistant coach for Rob Haskiell, in part because he could drive the bus. When Haskiell stepped down as coach, Jennings agreed to take over and has been coaching the team for seven years now.
Jennings, the choir director at Sherando, said coaching tennis is a little like conducting a choir.
"Everything you do, everything you try to teach and show them is immediately worked on," Jennings said. "Immediately, they try to perform that task whatever it is, either vocally, or a stroke, or footwork, or coming to the net, or showing them how to hit an overhead.
"That's the good part about coaching tennis, there's always immediate gratification."
Sherando's success this season should lead to continued success down the road. The Warriors only had three seniors of the 14 players on the team and they finished with an 11-8 record.
Sherando's biggest win came in the Region II quarterfinals, where the Warriors beat Fauquier on the road, 5-4.
"We had not seen Fauquier, didn't know what their strengths were, so we just said, 'OK, we just gotta go out and play our game,'" Jennings said. "We started winning matches and we're all going, 'Wow, we can do this.' When the last match came up and we won five, I was like, 'Guys, we did it. We made it.'"
While Jennings wants his players to be successful on the court in wins and losses, he feels it's just as important for his players to act in a proper way on and off the court. He constantly tells his players to be great gentlemen.
"The first thing when I meet with the parents, I tell them I would much rather build a better person than a tennis player," Jennings said. "I want character. I want people to learn how to take criticism well and how to take joys well -- how to be men and how to be gentlemen on the court. Those are my strong points as a teacher and as a coach. That's what I want to build -- better people."
Jennings' philosophies have certainly worked at Sherando, where the team has been very successful on the court and his players look up to him.
"He not only wants us to be great tennis players, but he wants us to be great gentlemen and I feel like that it's an incredibly important aspect of the game," Sherando senior Chris Mikus said. "He presents a great model for everyone to look up to. He's an amazing role model."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org