Clay senior James DeMeo first picked up a tennis racket around age 6 and began playing competitively in the fifth grade.
He had a few tennis lessons along the way, but mostly he taught himself.
“It was just fun, running around and running down all the balls,” DeMeo said.
He is 18 now and will graduate from Clay in June after making his mark within the Eagles’ tennis program. DeMeo, who went 60-31 during his four-year varsity career, leaves Coach Walt Ralph’s program with more combined singles and doubles victories than any player in Clay history.
|Clay tennis player James DeMeo. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)|
“I can only look at the record books to get an idea of who was before him,” said Ralph, who became Clay’s tennis coach in the spring of 1997. “He ranks right up there. He’s certainly the best player that I’ve had. He’s a tough competitor. When you put him in a match, if there’s a way for him to win, he’ll find it.”
DeMeo, the starting point guard on the Eagles’ basketball team last season, earned first-team All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference honors this spring after placing fourth at the TRAC tournament for the second straight year at No. 1 singles. That’s a big accomplishment, considering the TRAC is highly regarded tennis conference.
DeMeo finished 15-9 this season.
“He had a great year for us,” Ralph said. “He was much improved. His strength has always been his athleticism and his quickness on the court. He gets to balls that are just amazing, and he gets them back. He’s a counter-puncher by trade. This year he was able to incorporate some aggressiveness and generate some points, and he had some good wins against some quality opponents. He beat a couple players who had beaten him soundly last year.”
DeMeo made the varsity team as a freshman and played on the No. 2 doubles team. He played second singles as a sophomore behind No. 1 player Ryan Nelson, who is currently playing at Defiance College, and has been Clay’s No. 1 singles player the last two seasons.
“I thought I’d do pretty well (in high school),” DeMeo said. “I’m fairly competitive. I don’t like to lose. I hate to lose.”
Rather than play singles in the Division I sectional tournament this year, DeMeo chose to team with second singles player Todd Klewer. The pair played well at sectionals and advanced to the district tournament, where they won one match before being eliminated in straight sets by a duo from St. John’s Jesuit.
“It was his preference,” Ralph said. “One of the worries I had would be he would regret that because he played so much singles, and you always want to go out on your own terms. They had fun and gave it their best shot. James is a great net player but, with the way he plays, he doesn’t get a chance to (go to the net) that much at singles.
“When he comes to the net, he can turn it on as far as hitting good, stiff passing shots. He has great lobs, and his backhand is better than his forehand.”
DeMeo said he had his reasons for wanting to team with Klewer at doubles in the postseason.
“I wanted to get him to districts,” said DeMeo, who advanced to districts as a freshman and junior but had never won a match there. “I thought that would be cool. We had a good chance to make a run at the state tournament. We hadn’t really played (together) that much, but he has a good forehand and I have a good backhand. I thought we could make a run.”
Despite losing in the second round at districts, DeMeo said he made a good decision.
“I could have probably made it to the semifinal round (in singles),” he said. “I don’t really regret it, though. It was fun playing doubles. Having a person with you is fun.”
DeMeo will play tennis at Defiance, a Division III school, where he will study either accounting or sports journalism.
“I like the campus because it’s really small,” DeMeo said. “They have the same amount of students that Clay has. You know everybody on the team, and you know the professors. There are only 15 people to a class. I wanted to continue my career in athletics. I might try to play basketball there if I can, but I’m playing tennis for sure. I’m going to go there and work hard and maybe go to a bigger school.”