In April, Hudson Blake became the first Brophy tennis player to win the singles state championship in 16 years.
In October 2009, Blake bought his first racket.
It’s called being a “late bloomer,” but in this case, Blake not only bloomed as a tennis player, he blossomed.
Years of competitive baseball, and, until his freshman year, football, groomed his eye-hand coordination and athleticism. The now cast-aside sports also groomed his work ethic, and thanks to his coach’s “incentive” three years ago, set him up to become a state champion and the Tribune Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
He played baseball for nearly a decade, and was a backup JV quarterback as a Brophy freshman. But this was the class of Tyler Bruggman and Greg Wirth, so quarterback was more than occupied, and he didn’t want to keep playing or practicing.
Bill Woods, the school’s 20-year tennis coach, is also the JV football coach. He came up with a compromise:
“I told him if he entered tennis tournaments on the weekends he wouldn’t have to come to football practice,” Woods said. “If I had a small amount of an effect maybe it’s because I was an easy football coach.”
“I think I played in more tournaments those couple months than I have my entire life,” Blake said.
Though happy to be out of football, it was rough. He bought a racket and was average but showed potential as a freshman with his athleticism and coordination, then became a better JV player as a sophomore, right around the time he saw his skills and room for growth soar after playing in tournaments and learning from a private coach.
He had no second serve for the first two years of high school, but he could “outlast” lower-level opponents by reaching and returning difficult shots.
“He’d get hit butt kicked by the bigger players, but instead of quitting he’d fight and fight to make himself better,” Woods said. “He does not let little things or bad things turn on him.”
By his junior year, he entrenched himself on varsity, and, when teammate Kyle Chalmers was lost for the season with a torn ACL, became a go-to guy. Despite a bushel of youth, Blake busted out with a big win against Desert Mountain in the state finals, and the Broncos won the team state championship.
To few people’s surprise, the Broncos repeated this spring as team champions behind Blake and a healthy Chalmers. Once No. 2 to Chalmers, Blake was viewed as the better player this season, and despite Woods’ and the school’s illustrious tennis history, was the first Bronco since Andrew Spiegel in 1997.
“Improving as much as he did, I’ve never, ever had anyone make that big a jump,” Woods said.
He’ll play in a few more tournament this summer sandwiched around a family trip to Europe (including Wimbledon), then it’s back to the States and a couple more tournaments before he begins at Texas Christian University.
The start of college tennis means it’s back to the bottom of the lineup, which is probably great news given how Blake’s previous athletic ascension unfolded.
Why not again?
“I think it’ll be awesome getting the hitting and coaching everyday, against guys who’ll be 20 steps ahead of me,” he said. “It’ll be starting from the bottom and making my way up yet again. Apparently it’s when I do my best work.”
All-Tribune First Team
Player School Yr. Comment
Hudson Blake Brophy Sr. Tribune POY won Division I singles; headed to TCU
Luke Carstens/Adrian Cordova Notre Dame Jr./So. Carstens went 18-0 and Cordova 17-0 in regular season matches, then combined to win Div. II doubles title
Kyle Chalmers Brophy Sr. 4th place in Div. I singles after coming back from torn ACL as a junior; headed to St. Joseph Univ.
Cade Lortie Red Mountain Jr. Top Mesa-area singles player for 2nd consec. season reached Div. I quarterfinals
Andy Nguyen Hamilton Sr. 4-year starter led Huskies to three team semifinals, two sectional championships; finalist in ‘13 Kiwanis tournament
James Ponwith Chaparral Jr. 2nd in Div. I singles makes prime to be championship contender in 2014
Player of the Year: Hudson Blake, Brophy
Coach of the Year: Ben Orwin, Skyline: With an obvious nod to Bill Woods (Brophy), Phil Gonzales (Hamilton) and Oscar Varela (Notre Dame), Orwin has taken a program which nearly went extinct a couple years ago due to lack of kids, to one with a legitimate chance at postseason play in 2014. Sometimes it’s not all about wins.
All-Tribune Second Team
Player School Yr. Comment
David Akin/Michael Cowan Brophy So./So. Div. I doubles state champions
John Nelson Highland Sr. Top player in Gilbert district reached state quarterfinals as No. 5 singles’ seed
Colton Blomberg/Jesse Miritello Mtn. View Sr./Fr. Top Mesa doubles team reached state semifinalists in Div. I
Sam Wang/Mac Howell Hamilton Jr./Jr. Possible title favorites next year reached semifinals before falling to eventual champs
Clint Smith Williams Field Sr. 10-1 record in singles with wins over seven No. 1 players and berth in state quarterfinals; 8-3 in doubles
Matt Ledwith Mesa Sr. No. 7 seed was three-time state tournament player and twice advanced to third round; top-5 academically at the school
Apache Junction: Brad Milkey; Jon McCune
Basha: Zachary Olson
Cactus Shadows: Guy McAtee; Jack Peterson
Campo Verde: Cassidy Reader; Ben Johnson; James Tarravella
Chandler: Kiran Pendayala
Chaparral: Stefan Koester; Jonathan Manning; Ted McNally
Combs: Micah Ricks; Robert Jones
Corona del Sol: Kevin McMahon
Desert Mountain: Daniel Florin; Kevin McCarville; James Schmidt
Desert Vista: Andy Cook; Mohammed Saleem; Yusuf Saleem
Gilbert: Max Kaito
Hamilton: Akash Pendyala; Sanjay Srinivasan
Highland: Tanner Erickson; Ryan Layton; Brandon Sucher
Higley: Brandon Boyle
Horizon: Jarod Hing
Marcos de Niza: Connor Stark
Mesquite: Daniel Hollands; Chrisman Smith
Mountain Pointe: Monty Roth
Notre Dame: Konrad Krolls; Mark Prygolki
Paradise Valley: Rex Miller; Kyle Peterson
Perry: Nick Copic; Austin Stradling; Brennan Sciascia
Pinnacle: Aaron Goodman; Michael Headley, Ryan Headley
Poston Butte: Rodrigo Saverignini
Red Mountain: Chase Lortie; Zach Royal
St. Mary’s: Mario Herrera
Saguaro: Evan Hessler
Scottsdale Christian: David Amano; Caston Clausen; Ryan McDowell
Seton Catholic: Aaron Sycamore; Frankie Lister
Skyline: Michael Kuban; Devin Poulsen
Westwood: Austin Clark
Williams Field: Porter Derrick; Braden Shumway
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.