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The unlikely champions

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Staunton River boys tennis team sweeps to BRD crown

By Mike Forster

  If you had been inclined to make a preseason prediction on the fate of Staunton River’s boys tennis team, you’d likely have given long odds on its chance for success.

Such odds would be based on a program history that includes few highlights.

Fast forward to today.  The Golden Eagle netters are the undefeated champions of the Blue Ridge District.

Undefeated.  Champions.

Neither term has ever before been used in conjunction with Staunton River tennis.  Now, both are in vogue.

The Eagles put an exclamation point on their 8-0 district run, topping Northside, 7-2.  The Vikings were the final obstacle to a dream season for the Eagles.  That dream, as it turns out, was not to be denied.  Not to this bunch.

If you’re thinking that Staunton River’s tennis crew consists of a bunch of country club kids who have played the sport since they were toddlers, you’d be wrong.

Instead, nearly every member of the team started playing after matriculating into the high school.

After that, though, they made up ground by working like the dickens.

 

Unremarkable history

Staunton River boys tennis had long been the doormat of its district.  Blue Ridge or Seminole, it didn’t matter:  The Eagles could be found near the bottom.

Winless seasons were not uncommon.

When Chad Proctor took over as head coach of the team, he inherited a program that hadn’t won a match in five years

Proctor, himself, was a part of the less-than-impressive legacy, having played tennis at Staunton River (along with football, basketball and golf).  His senior year was his first time playing and he came away winless.

Proctor’s first year as head coach came in 2009.  The team got its first taste of victory, picking up a pair of wins.  “The kids got excited,” recalled the coach.

Last year, the Eagles went 2-6 in the Blue Ridge, good enough for fourth place, but not good enough to raise many eyebrows.

But it did raise the players’ hopes, particularly those of Proctor’s core of four seniors:  Wesley Tronolone, Stefan LaBrie, Matthew Burnette and Joshua Basham.

“At the heart of this turnaround is this group of seniors,” said Proctor.  “If you don’t love something, don’t do it.  This group loves to (play tennis).”

All four played USTA last summer.  Proctor, who is the Staunton River JV football coach, saw them working as he paced the gridiron last summer.

Still, to overtake the likes of Lord Botetourt and Northside, schools that do have the country-club type player, requires more than just hard work and dedication, doesn’t it?

“A lot of it came from knowing we had everyone back and were competitive last year,” said Proctor.

Before the season, Proctor brought his charges into the Staunton River gym and pointed to where the championship placards hang.  “I told them we can put a banner up there,” said Proctor, pointing to that spot.  “Even if there had there had been none before.”

Basham, the #5 singles player, certainly believed.  “We saw we had the potential and started working toward the banner,” he recalled.  “I think the banner means legacy.  It’s something I can show my kids someday.  It’s a way not to be forgotten.”

Basham, who is the president of the SCA and is headed to UVa to study architecture, hopes the winning at River will continue.  “I believe we have set a foundation for future success,” he noted.  “You can be good in tennis no matter when you start.  You just need to be motivated to succeed.”

Tronolone, who is the number one player on the team, has found that communication skills are imperative.  He and LaBrie make up the number one doubles team.  Tronolone feels that the pair has grown leaps and bounds over where it was last year.

Tronolone has some additional motivation.  He has dedicated his playing to the memory of his grandmother, who passed away one week into the season.

An avid tennis player, she left behind a trove of trophies which Tronolone keeps in his room.  He also carries her racket to matches as a backup.

“She’s a big part of my game,” said Tronolone.  “During matches, I’ll ask for her help.”

LaBrie, one of the other seniors, is a true student of the game, whose dedication has carried over into the classroom, according to his coach.

The fourth senior, Burnette, is a solid citizen, playing #4 singles.  “He’ll do anything to help the team,” said Coach Proctor.

Along with #3 Mason Collins and #6 Kody Weeks, the Eagles seemed poised to pursue more wall hangings.  They’ll take aim at a Blue Ridge District Tourney title this week (see schedule on page 4B).

No matter how far this crew goes in the post-season (it has an automatic bid to the first round of the Region III tourney), its place in Staunton River lore is assured.

“They will be greatly missed next year,” said Proctor, of his seniors.  “I just hope their passion is contagious.”