Bobcat men's tennis team has high expectations for 2011

Written By: Shawn Wansley
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Date Submitted: 2011-02-21 19:27:43

 By Shawn Wansley

JCJC Sports Information

ELLISVILLE – Jones County Junior College tennis coach Mark Easley has always believed that depth is the key to a successful team.

If that’s the case, then the 2011 JCJC men’s squad should be in for a quality season.

The Bobcats have ten players on the roster and Easley said they are all excellent players and competitors.

“This is certainly one of the deepest teams we’ve ever had,” said Easley, who is entering his 12th year as head coach. “I can’t say it’s the best because they have not played or proven anything yet. But on paper, it’s one of the best.

“I think one through five is pretty set, but some of these days in practice some of the other guys give the 3s and 4s a run for their money. That brings out the competition in everybody and that’s good for the whole team.”

The Bobcats had a solid season last year.

They finished regular season play with a 13-3 record and took third in the MACJC Tournament. They ended up fourth in the Region 23 Tournament.

This year’s team will also feature a pair of foreign student-athletes – Sam Thorold from Leicestershire, England, and Nick Williams from Melbourne, Australia. Easley said those two young men would be at the top of the team lineup.

“Sam and Nick are not only good players, but they are good guys and fun to be around,” said Easley. “They have high ACT and SAT scores and they are taking care of business here. They realize they are here for the education, as well as the tennis.

“You never know what kind of player you will get internationally. You can watch video on the internet and take the word from one of your contacts. But you never know until they get here.”

Easley said Thorold and Williams had to get used to their new surroundings in Jones County. He said their Bobcat teammates and everyone in the community has tried to make them feel at home.

“The team and all of the people at Jones have really adopted the international players,” he said. “That’s what you have to have because it’s a big adjustment for them. They are coming from another country to Ellisville, Miss., and culture shock is an understatement. But everybody has really accepted them.”

Thorold is listed as the No. 1 player, while Williams is No. 2.

“Sam has been a surprise,” Easley said. “He has a good game at the net, he’s good at doubles and singles. He will be a really big addition to the team. Nick is a lefty that hits a really good backhand and forehand. He is also comfortable at the net.

“He is getting into the swing of things now.”

Playing at No. 3 singles is West Jones sophomore Cade Sherman, while Laurel (home school) sophomore Armand Deniakos is at No. 4. Easley said both of those players bring a lot to the table.

“Cade had a great freshman year last year and we are looking for big things from him at the No. 3 spot,” he said. “He is showing great leadership as a sophomore. He is a very solid player and has played a lot of tennis his whole life.

“Armand is a very, very good singles player and has picked up his doubles game. He had never played a lot of doubles until he came here and he reached the finals in doubles last year at state. He strokes the ball so well and he will have a good shot at having a big year for us.”

At No. 5 singles will be Simpson Academy sophomore Mitchell Smith. Smith played on the team two years ago, but sat out last year. He is also a member of the Bobcat golf team.

“Mitchell is a good athlete with good strokes,” Easley said. “He is a very competitive guy. He sat out last year and worked on his father’s farm, so he is getting back into the groove right now.”

Easley has five quality players vying for the No. 6 spot. That is a pleasant problem to have at this point.

Sophomore Nathan Burkett, along with Laurel freshman Josh Agee, Northeast Jones freshman Colby Prince and Laurel Christian High School freshmen Thomas Morgan and Casper Wansley are all in contention for that position.

“Nathan played doubles and mixed in some singles for us last year,” Easley said. “He can play a good game when he stays positive on the court. He is a big kid, around 6-3, and can hit some big serves and run the baseline well. Josh had a really good high school career at Laurel under coach Jeff Davis and competed in the state finals. He is a super quick kid. He runs all over the place and gets to so many balls. He can hit the ball really hard at times.

“Casper is a consistent, low-key guy. He is a good player and hardly ever says a word. He also made it to the state finals at LCS. He is a good singles player and is battling for doubles’ time, too. Thomas won a doubles title at LCS last year. He has a great forehand and hits the ball well from the baseline. He is a super kid and a great guy to be around.

“This is the first time in a long time that Colby has been able to dedicate all of his time to just one sport. He played baseball at Northeast. The last couple of weeks you can really see a difference in his game. He just needs to continue to work.”

The Bobcats last made it to nationals in 2008 and have made two appearances in the NJCAA Tournament in the past five years. If everything falls into place, Easley hopes this year’s team can put itself in position to make it that far, especially with the addition of Thorold and Williams.

“The international players will add another dimension to our team this year,” he said. “Hopefully, they can take us up another notch. We have always been competitive with just the American kids.

“We went to nationals a couple of years ago and we’ve been right on the doorstep of nationals since then. Hopefully, these players can take us another step towards that goal of reaching nationals.”

Easley said the team chemistry is good and that is important to achieving the team’s goals.

“The guys are all very competitive and want to win,” he said. “They compete very hard during practice. But when it’s over, they all walk off together, hang out together and are good friends.

“We just want to put our best team on the court when we play.”

Easley said the state and regional competition would be solid once again.

“Meridian is really good, along with Gulf Coast, Itawamba and Hinds,” he said. “Co-Lin is always a solid team. We can compete with any of them, I think. It’s just a matter of what happens on that day.

“But I am excited about this team. I know how our returning players will do, but we do not know how the new players will fit in at the moment. But we will find out soon.

“The team has high expectations and my expectations for them are high, too.”

The Bobcats open the season at home at 2 p.m. on Feb. 28 against Northeast Mississippi Community College. The MACJC State Tournament will be April 14-16 at Mississippi College in Clinton and the Region 23 Tournament will be April 19-20 in Meridian.

The national tournament will be May 16-20 in Plano, Texas.



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