On April 19th and 20th, the Junior and Senior (respectively) ISA Championships were held at the UBC Tennis Centre. Both teams had solid results, with a gold for the juniors and bronze for the seniors. The teams played some of the most important matches of the season over the course of the two days.
The St. George’s tennis team is, like many other competitive sports at St. George’s, into Junior (grades 8-10) and Senior (grades 10-12) categories. Within these two categories there are A and B teams, which play a role in determining the starters of tournaments. Players must attend two tryouts in order to considered for the teams. While not all of the candidates will get to play on the team, 20-22 boys are kept on the training squads for twice weekly practices.
Practices for the tennis teams are Monday and Wednesday (for Junior), and Tuesday and Thursday (for Senior) from 3:30 to 5 in the afternoon. The practice sessions offered at those times are particularly valuable because they are the only opportunities for the entire team to get together and practice. Due to the inclement weather conditions during spring over the past several years, many scheduled practices were cancelled and as a result, the team was not able to play with each other as often as the coaches would’ve wanted.
The progress of the teams this year, however, will not be hindered by rainouts. Gerry Macken, the head coach of the tennis program at Saints, have required all team members to pack runners in the case of rain. If the courts are too wet for tennis, players will be split into two groups–one will work on fitness in the school fitness centre, and the other will work on endurance by doing long-distance runs around the field or Chaldecott Park (a public park two blocks down the road from the Senior School). Intra-team practice matches are also held from 2-5pm on selected Sundays, and this matchplay opportunity has proven to greatly help the team prepare for upcoming matches and tournaments.
Mr. Macken explains how the primary goal of this season is “related to experiencing the competitive process.” The team has been training to prepare for matches “mentally, tactically, and technically” and has had, over the years, stellar “medal achievements” (the team won gold in ISAs in 2009, 2011-2016). The consistent achievements by the Junior and Senior tennis team can be rooted from the Term 1 Games Choice of Recreation Tennis program, where players received “[extra] coaching” and training to be “better prepared” for term 3. With the continued interest in the sport at St. George’s over the years, and “as cream rises to the top” year after year, the team is “usually left with lots of talented tennis players to represent the school very well.”
This season will be particularly difficult for the senior team as the majority of players are much younger (often in grades 8-10). The senior team this year took a hit as the team has lost 4 starters and 3 backups, who all graduated last year. Mr. Macken considers medalling at the Provincials “a big challenge” for the senior team, but some of the junior boys will be filling the squad for the Provincials. The Junior team, on the other hand, is “quite deep with talent” this year, and many of them can play “multiple roles in singles or doubles,” which would be a strength as long as the team stays focussed for the upcoming Provincial Championships.
Established in the early 1900s, the Independent School Association consists of 26 independent schools in British Columbia, including St. George’s, Collingwood, Crofton House, Mulgrave, St. Michael’s and many more. The ISA Championships is a regional inter-school tennis tournament that has been running since the 1990s, and over the years, the tournament has fostered a respectful but competitive environment between the schools in Lower Mainland. Although the most important tournament of the year, ranking-wise, is the BC Provincial Championships, the ISAs serve as a mid-point to the teams’ end goal and allows the players to get the bugs out and jump back into the intense competition.
One of the major focuses within the tennis program at St. George’s is playing as a team, and in tennis, the only time you’d play as a team in a match is with a doubles partner. Mr. Macken explains: one of the “strengths with both teams is our preparation to doubles. I make it a priority to train the doubles game because there is more weight put on doubles and I feel most of the other teams do not prioritize it.” In the independent schools league, doubles matches is arguably the more important as it takes up most of the matches in the schedules of tournaments. Tennis is a mental and tactical game, and being good doubles partners take that to another level by not only knowing each others’ games, but also working together to set up strategies to win a match.
Kevin Lim (grade 10), an experienced tennis player that has been in the Junior Varsity team since grade 8, expresses that “while playing in the team taught [him] that winning is important,” the camaraderie and “teamwork” is also an unique experience to be cherished. Now at his second ISA Championships, Rod Vaziri (grade 10) also reflects how “the competitive environment of playing tennis with my friends has propelled [him] to enjoy the game even more than I already did.” Not only is competing for the school a way to improve the overall quality of play of the team, it’s also a way to communicate and bond with your friends, an experience that I believe is truly unique. Mr. Macken additionally expresses that while expectations to win is important, “[representing] the school” and its “traditions” is also a behavioral expectation for the boys.
Despite the unequal distribution of junior and senior players this year, the team has worked hard to produce the best results possible, and hopefully this motivation will propel them to success in the upcoming BC Provincial Championships in May!