The George Washington High School boys tennis team, the defending Class AAA champions, have already procured a little hardware during the young 2014 season.
The Patriots finished first in the DecoTurf High School Tennis Team Championships on March 28-29 in Louisville, Ky. GW took home the title for the eight-team Division B group, which also featured high school programs from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland.
That could be a harbinger as the regular season rolls toward regional and state tournament play. After all, a year after GW wrested away the state crown from Huntington, the 2011 and ‘12 champs, the Patriots have all four singles positions and their top two doubles teams back from the title team.
After Monday afternoon’s 6-1 win over Parkersburg at Kanawha City’s Schoenbaum Courts, George Washington is 8-0.
“The Deco tournament was a great experience,” said Chris Luckett, who is in his third season coaching the GW boys and his first in charge of the girls’ program. “It is a college atmosphere and they play Division II rules. Coaching is allowed on the court and when the players get done they can stand on the court and cheer for their teammates.
“It was great for the kids because they got to experience high-level tennis and it put them into a college-type atmosphere.”
Luckett covets a true tennis atmosphere. He implemented pre-match introductions at GW, so the players aren’t just handed a can of balls and pointed toward a court with no fanfare. The teams line up and hear their names called before play begins.
“It’s the simple things,” Massinople said. “He’s trying to implement a mentality that West Virginia can have really good tennis. It pumps us up and it makes it a little more serious and gives everyone a little recognition.”
Luckett isn’t one to rest on his laurels, either. The 33-year-old watched a senior-less team win a state championship last spring, but wanted to find ways to better prepare his team and enhance their experiences for high school tennis and beyond.
He worked to get the Patriots into the invitation-only tournament in Louisville, where 24 teams from 12 states competed in two divisions. GW No. 1 singles player Ryan Massinople was named the Division B Most Valuable Player.
The team’s other returning players also competed: Zack Koenig (No. 2 singles/No. 1 doubles), Nick Koenig (No. 3 singles/No. 2 doubles) and Thomas McIntosh (No. 4 singles/No. 2 doubles).
“It was great for all of us,” Massinople said. “In the state there is definitely some good competition, but you don’t see the depth in the competition you see in those types of tournaments. That’s why we’re getting better, because we had to grind through that competition.”
Massinople lost in last year’s No. 1 singles semifinals to Martinsburg’s Grant Davis, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
“He improved tremendously in the offseason,” Luckett said of Massinople, a senior.
The left-handed Massinople will sign with Division I Furman later this month. He also considered schools like Colgate, Lehigh, Notre Dame and Wake Forest.
“My visit to Furman really tipped the balance,” Massinople said. “It’s an exciting time there right now.”
First, however, Massinople and the returning Patriots will focus on the high school regular season. A big match against Huntington looms April 24, and George Washington will head to Morgantown the next day to face Morgantown, Martinsburg and Washington over the course of the weekend.
George Washington, Huntington and Morgantown have combined to win 17 of the last 21 Class AAA state championships. The Patriots won three straight from 2008-10 before back-to-back titles for the Highlanders.
Luckett said the DecoTurf event will help better prepare his team for tough matches.
“At the out-of-state tournaments every team is just as deep as we are, so that’s a fun part of it,” he said. “The kids are loving it. If they want to have goals to play college tennis, you have to have someone to make that happen for them and you have to have that competition.”