Portage senior Jeff Craig appears to be making the most of his lone season at No. 1 singles.
Craig played No. 2 last season, and he was named the team's MVP. This year at No. 1, he enters today's Portage Sectional with an 11-6 mark.
Portage boys tennis coach Gary Hayes knew he was asking a lot of Craig to take over No. 1 for only one season.
"Some kids don't like going to No. 1; you come out of your comfort zone moving from No. 2 to 1," Hayes said. "It's also a lot harder to do this as a senior. If you move up as a sophomore or junior, you have time to grind things out and put it all together as a senior."
Even in his short span of time, Craig has put together his game.
Hayes said that Craig's first-serve percentage last year was around 50 percent, so the senior spent his off season trying to improve those statistics.
"I just went down to the court and worked on serving angles," Craig said. "I started to get more of them in."
Hayes said those improved serves set up more manageable points for Craig.
"If he would've been with that serve at No. 1 last year, he would've gotten stung a lot more," Hayes said. "He's getting more shorts ball now, and he's doing something with them."
Craig also added a two-hand backhand to his shot selection.
"He just had the one-handed slice before, but now he's able to add more depth to his shot," Hayes said. "He's now much more smarter with his ground game."
In practice, time spent with fellow seniors Parth Patel and Kyle Tampier has also had its advantages.
"Parth hits the ball pretty sharply, while Kyle spins its with more of angle (to his shots)," Craig said. "I helps to work against a couple different styles of play."
Since Craig is a senior, Hayes believes a more mature approach was a must to endure this schedule. Half of Craig's losses came to Valparaiso's Marc Shideler, Merrillville's Leonard Mathews II and Kankakee Valley's Luke Sanderson. Shideler is a four-year No. 1 singles player, Mathews II finished fourth in the state last year and Sanderson just completed his school's first undefeated regular season.
"A younger player might've gotten down on themselves after these losses," Hayes said of Craig. "He just uses the matches as learning experiences. He's just builds to the next match."
Craig would love to play college tennis at the Division II or III level next year, and he appears to have enjoyed this challenge.
"This (experience) has really helped sharpen my game," he said. "and it's pushed me to play at a higher level. I think I'm better for it."