Written by Mark Griffin
To say Jeff Brown was disappointed on Tuesday would be a huge understatement.
Brown, Waite’s talented No. 1 singles player, lost in the title match of the City League tennis tournament at Rolf Park.
And yet, consider this: Brown is 16-2 this season and went 9-0 during CL regular-season play. He is now 53-17 in his career for the Indians, who haven’t exactly been a tennis hotbed over the last half-century.
He placed third in the CL last year, fifth as a sophomore and seventh as a freshman.
The fact that Brown even picked up a tennis racket in the first place was a minor miracle.
In the words of third-year Waite coach Leo Enriquez, Brown initially shunned tennis and thought it was for “wimps.” That is, until former Indians coach Andy Stutz got Brown to go out for the tennis team as a freshman.
“He thought it was a ‘wussy’ sport and he turned out to be a great player,” Enriquez said. “Andy planted the seed with Jeff and I nourished it as he grew. I watered him and he actually turned out to be a pretty good plant, so to speak.”
Brown can look back on it now and laugh.
“I was more of a contact sport person,” he said. “I was more of a team player; I had never played an individual sport. I grew up around basketball, baseball, football. I never even watched tennis - maybe once.
“When I first started playing, I fell in love with it. I got serious about it my freshman year. I’m very glad I stuck with it. I always wanted to be the best at everything. I hate losing.”
That’s why the 6-1, 6-4 loss to St. John's freshman Ryan Jorgensen in Tuesday’s league title match was so hard to take. That, and the fact that Brown had beaten Jorgensen 6-2, 6-3 earlier in the year at Jermain Park.
“When Jeff played Ryan the first time, that was the first time they had ever met in a (high school) match,” Enriquez said. “Jeff didn’t have any pressure on him. He played his game. Going into the City tournament, he was the favored player. BCSN was there and that played a factor in it.
“Everybody relied on Jeff to win, and I think that sunk in early in the match. He couldn't get his serve in and that’s one of his best assets. Jeff had everything to lose and Ryan didn’t have anything to lose. I believe Jeff had a lot of pressure on him and he was tight the whole match. Ryan was just the better player that day.”
Brown (5’10, 160), the No. 1 seed, admitted the weight of the expectations weighed on him during the CL tourney.
“I beat the kid earlier in the season, so I was disappointed in how I played, big-time,” Brown said. “I was nervous. There were a lot of people there and cameras ...
“Waite had never had someone in the City finals since the 1950s, and everyone was talking about it. They had high expectations of me. I had tons of pressure on me.”
St. John’s won its fourth straight title, while Clay took third place and Waite was fifth in the 11-team field.
“We had a good year,” Enriquez said. “We went 7-3 and were over .500 (9-7) for the season. We did better than what we should have. I'm happy and I'm proud and I have no complaints, especially with Jeff's turnout and Kenny Clapsaddle’s turnout.”
Clapsaddle, the Indians’ No. 2 singles player, took fourth in the CL tournament.
Enriquez said he has no doubt that Brown will be able to get out of sectionals for the second straight year. Waite competes in the sectional tournament Friday and Saturday at Jermain Park.
Brown was a sectional runner-up last year and was ousted in the first round of districts.
“Jeff will end up winning sectionals, I can almost guarantee it,” Enriquez said. “He has one of those draws where teams are stacking their doubles. There’s nobody in there who can really compete with him.”
For his part, Brown said losing in the league tournament is a big motivator. He could end up meeting Jorgensen at districts.
“I don’t want to lose anymore,” Brown said. “I came so far, and to come up short like that, I just want revenge. I want bragging rights.”
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