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The City Journals

Titan tennis rising

May 30, 2017 03:32PM ● By Travis Barton

No. 2 singles player Cole Marshall returns a shot against Skyline. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]
Practice. Former NBA superstar Allen Iverson once joked about saying the word dozens of times in an infamous press conference. But for the Olympus boys tennis team, practices have taken them to the next level.
“There’s no walking around on the court — we’re running to get the ball, they’re working hard,” said second-year head coach Mike Epperson. “I want them to come off feeling like they've worked out, not just going out there and hitting the ball and leaving practice.”
That mindset has improved the quality of the program and made for a bright future.
The Titans boast a talented squad that has taken second in region in as many years and is rising to compete among the state contenders.
“We’re a top five team in 4A easily by the competition we’ve played and how we’ve played. I believe we’re a top five team,” Epperson said.
And it came about through practice.
Epperson, who grew up playing tennis, comes from a football coaching background and runs his practices as such, where movement should be constant and he expects a lot from his players. He said it’s about having pride in the program.
“If I’m going to invest time into this program, then I want results, I don’t want to go into a program and have people come to hang out with their friends,” Epperson said. “Look, let’s get better, let’s make this the best program we can be.”
Though there was a transition for the players in the beginning, they are seeing the dividends pay off.
Cole Marshall, no. 2 singles, plays year-round and said practices during the spring season are proving beneficial.
“I get better practicing, and I think even people who weren’t that good are getting better from the practices in the spring (season), so I think a spring’s practice with (Epperson) is the equivalent of putting everything you got in six months at a club or something,” Marshall, a junior, said.
But the practices aren’t just about the work ethic. Fundamentals have been sharpened and intelligence has increased, as well.
“That’s one thing that we’ve tried to develop with them is you don’t need to kill the ball, you just need to be consistent, keep it in, hit the corners and know when to approach the net,” Epperson said.
No player better epitomizes that aptitude than Marshall. Epperson said Marshall is “a wall” with his consistency in returning shots and his steady mindset.
“He’s the most cerebral — he doesn’t let things affect him. If he’s down he won’t give up, and keep fighting. He just doesn’t quit — that’s what I love about him,” Epperson said.
Marshall said it was part of his progress this year.
“You don’t want to waste your energy and stuff, so it’s about being smart and playing smart,” he said.
Epperson said the horizon looks good for the Titan program, with freedom and support from parents and the administration to go along with a burgeoning pool of talent that includes some incoming freshmen next season.
“You have to continually redevelop the program every year. You can’t just be happy with who you have now — you gotta develop players,” Epperson said.
He added that with most of his varsity returning next year, the future is looking bright, as state title contenders Skyline and Timpview lose players to graduation.
“I feel like next year we’ll have a good chance to really compete. Next year might be our year,” he said.