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By Randy Whalen

Many good things are happening for the Joliet Township boys' tennis team.

How good?

"This is the breakout season," Joliet Township junior Paul Coffey said.

It certainly could be. Under first-year head coach Christina Hackett, the team has shown much improvement and the singles players are doing very well.

That showed when Joliet Township hosted a recent quadrangle meet with Coal City, Joliet Catholic Academy, and Plainfield South on Saturday, April 6 at Joliet West. Led by Coffey at No. 1, the JT singles players swept all three of their matches. Coffey is now 7-0 on the season. 

Not bad for someone who never played tennis until he entered high school.

"I never played until freshmen year," Coffey said. "My friend, Elijah Zamoras, who isn't on the team anymore, got me playing. I was a standout at any other sport, so I thought it was just something to do. When I started out, I was really bad."

But now he's really good. That didn't take long either as Coffey became the No. 1 singles player on the team as a sophomore.

"I've had a few lessons and things but I don't have a private coach now," Coffey said. "I just practice a lot. I put in a lot of hard work."

That hard work showed in the quad meet. Coffey won two of his matches with relative ease but had to work to pull out the one against JCA. After defeating Plainfield South 6-2, 6-1 and Coal City 6-2, 6-0, he rallied to win 2-6, 6-2 and 10-7 in the super tiebreaker to defeat the Hilltoppers.

But Coffey isn't the only singles player doing well for JT. Senior Aaron Strong also swept all three of his matches at the quad and is now 6-1 on the season.

"We've had a lot of cancelations because of rain and snow," Strong said of the weather playing havoc with the season so far. "So it felt good to have sunshine and get out to play local schools."

Strong was just that in the three matches on Saturday. He had a 6-1, 6-2 win over Plainfield South, then edged his Coaler opponent 4-6, 6-1, (10-7), and swept past JCA 6-0, 6-0. 

"I've been on the varsity all four years," Strong said. "I played second doubles my first year and singles ever since. Paul (Coffey) is one of my best friends and it's fun to play good competition in practice. We make each other better."

Coffey agreed. 

"A day like this, you find out what you need to work on," he said of the quad. "Plus, when I play Aaron it's about perfecting form. He sets the bar high."

There were only two singles levels at the quad. But the day before, Friday, April 5, JT was at Plainfield Central for a Southwest Prairie Conference match. While Joliet Township lost 4-3 to fall to 1-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference, the team swept all the singles matches. 

That included junior Christian Alexander at No. 3 singles, who had a 4-6, 7-5, (10-5) win. 

"That was exciting," Hackett said. "He's worked really hard this season."

In her first season as JT head coach, Hackett has worked really hard to get the team going. But she couldn't have done it without help from her friends and coworkers.

"I've always had a love of tennis and I played in high school," Hackett said. "In my first year as coach, I can't say enough about how important it is to have mentors."

She listed three key coaches who have helped her. Lisa Luangsomkham, the badminton coach at Joliet Central, Liz Covelli-Reyes, the girls' tennis coach for Joliet Township, and Jeremy Kreiger, the boys' basketball coach at Joliet West.

"Lisa has really helped me because she's been a mom and a coach and has been there," Hackett said. "Liz has gone above and beyond in helping with everything. She's taken me under her wing and shared her knowledge.

"Jeremy is my neighbor and he has helped so much in guiding me. In the world of coaches at Joliet Township, we have great coaches who are willing to share."

At the quad, the JT doubles team split its matches. Alexander played at No. 1 doubles, along with sophomore Joseph O'Brien. The duo won 6-3, 6-0 over Plainfield South, but lost two tough ones after that. Those were 3-6, 6-4, (10-5) to Coal City, and 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) to JCA. 

At second doubles, it was junior David Contreras and senior Michael Skole with a 6-0, 6-2 win over the Cougars. a 6-4, 6-2 loss to Coal City, and a 6-2, 7-5 victory over JCA. 

In the third doubles, sophomores Jayden Diggs and Exavier Rodriquez didn't have a match against Plainfield South. They lost 6-1 7-5 to Coal City but won 6-1, 4-6, (10-2) over JCA. There was an extra third doubles match too. That was senior Lleyton Luangsomkham, Lisa Luangsomkham's son, and sophomore Fernando Chavez Guzman, who had a tough 7-5, 2-6, (10-8) loss to the Hilltoppers. 

With a month left until the SPC meet and the sectional to follow, Joliet Township is looking to continue to improve. The attitude is certainly there to do it.

"I love it that I just go out and do it as an individual sport," Coffey said of tennis. "It's part of me as a person. I have a passion for it."

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