LANSING | Zhavia Gray is a coach's dream, and not because of her tennis ability.
Well, that helps too.
The Illiana Christian No. 1 singles player is one of the most talented in the area, but she is just as concerned with making those around her better as she is with her own game.
"She's a great person to have at practice," Vikings coach Rob Lagerwey said. "She really encourages everyone else. And now that she's a junior there are times when I split the kids into two groups and use her almost like an instructor. That's a nice thing to be able to do."
Instruction is second-nature to Gray. For as long as she can remember, she has done whatever she can to help others.
When she's not busy with school or tennis, she even finds time to tutor young children.
"I love helping people," Gray said. "In tennis or in school, it's always been a sort of hobby of mine. I enjoy helping people, motivating them."
Gray's team-first attitude is always on display.
The Illiana junior has been to the state tournament in each of her first two seasons, and expects to get there for a third time this year. But ask her about her plans for this season and she is quiet and humble.
Ask her about her team and she lights up.
"I absolutely love the arrangement of this team," Gray said. "I think we could really go far and have even more people go to state than last year."
This attitude is no surprise to Lagerwey, who sees it first-hand in practice every day.
"Her ability is at a higher level than the rest of the kids but she doesn't act like a prima donna," Lagerwey said. "She's very humble and she's just one of the kids, one of the girls. And that's very nice to see."
As a freshman Gray burst onto the scene, losing in the second round of the state tournament in Mt. Prospect. She returned to Mt. Prospect last year, but fell in the second round again.
That result might frustrate some, but not Gray. Instead she has just gone on quietly working on her game, planning on getting out of the second round this year.
"Whether it's my ground stroke, my volley or my serve, I always just try to improve one step at a time," Gray said.
"There's always good competition when you go down (to state). Everyone is a top competitor, so I just have to try my best. I always want to get farther than I did the previous year."