Ellis Syke isn’t the typical newcomer to tennis.
The Coon Rapids sophomore is one of the top racquetball players in the state and decided to give tennis a try this spring.
Syke won a Minnesota state junior title in 2012 and is currently ranked second (out of 22 player) in the state’s 16-year-old division and 161st in the state singles rankings. Both rankings are determined on a points system and Syke competes as a B-level player in his fourth year of playing the indoor game. He calls the Lifetime Fitness in Fridley his home court and plans to compete in the junior nationals tournament in Denver this summer.
Syke credits his father for introducing him to the sport.
Cardinals coach Scott Storrick helped attract Syke to the tennis court after having him in a graphics class as a freshman. “We played a couple times last year but he decided not to come out so we played again this winter,” Storrick said about playing Syke in both racquet sports during the winter.
Storrick was a competitive racquetball player, so showing Syke that he can the move successful was a key.
“Things carry over like anticipation and moving without the ball and those things will carry over for him,” Storrick said.
Although both games use a racquet, the differences are vast from the environment to the ball used.
Going from the four walls and ceiling in racquetball to a court and net took some adjustment.
“When it comes to racquetball you want to keep [the ball] low and away from the other person, which is kind of the same thing [in tennis] but in doubles you want to try to keep them off the net,” Syke said about the strategy, never mind a nasty cross-court wind. “It was really tough to keep the ball in [play]. I kept hitting it out because of the wind.”
Syke is partnered with freshman Drew Grimmer at second doubles and the pair lost a tough opening match against No. 2 ranked Maple Grove, 0-6, 0-6. The Crimson swept the seven matches and Robbinsdale Armstrong also kept the Cardinals searching for the first team point of the season two days later. Although Syke and Grimmer lost again, the score was a much more promising 3-6, 7-6 result.
Coon Rapids is a young team, starting seven underclassmen on the dozen-player varsity roster.
Besides his court skills, Storrick is impressed most by Syke’s attitude and approach to his first high school varsity sport season. “Even though they lost [to Maple Grove] he said after the match that he had fun. When you have someone athletic and a competitor say that, he’s only going to get better,” Storrick said.
Doubles is the perfect spot for Syke, as Storrick noted: “He can be aggressive at the net and take his hits but he has taken the attitude of being a first-year player, knowing he’s going to get better and that’s huge.”
Developing an overhead serve instead of the side-swing serve used in racquetball will take some time, but Syke keeps it all in perspective.
“My goal is to learn a lot and maybe not do great this year but I want to progress and win some matches with my partner and get better.”
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