Last year, Kankakee Valley freshman Luke Sanderson hunted his way onto the boys tennis scene like a Kougar on the prowl.
Sanderson went undefeated during the regular season, garnering 17 wins as the No. 1 singles player for the Kougars. The mark included tough Northwest Crossroads Conference wins over Munster and Highland, as well as a hard-fought, three-set battle against arch-rival Benton Central.
As a sophomore who's earned his stripes, Sanderson already has bigger and better goals for both his team and himself.
"There's no reason we can't win sectional this year," Sanderson said. "Why not us?"
The Kougars play in the tough NCC, so it's not like they have a cream puff schedule. A .500 record during the regular season could be deceiving.
"We're a better team than some people think," Sanderson said. "Hopefully, we can show that at the right time."
Focusing on team goals more than his own is a prime example of why Coach Dan Roberts says Sanderson is so special.
"Luke is extremely talented," Roberts said. "But his intangibles are as much if not more important to this team. He's very coachable, and the other guys see that and pick up on it."
Sanderson also goes out of his way to help teammates who ask for some guidance.
"I would never offer suggestions unless I was asked," Sanderson said. "This isn't about my ego, it's about getting three points."
Sanderson has been playing since he could hold a racket as a 3-year-old. He travels the USTA tour during the offseason. His father, Reggie, is the tennis coach at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer.
With all that going for him, he wears his success humbly.
"I really like playing here with the guys I know," Sanderson said. "It's a little out of the way, but I get great competition in conference and from other local schools."
Sanderson won four matches in the individual postseason before bowing out at the regional finals. His goal is to go farther this season
"The individual postseason was a different experience last year," he said. "The pressure and intensity ratchet up a lot. I think I'll be better prepared this year. I'd like to get downstate this time around."
Making the postseason first with the team and then on his own plays well in Sanderson's mind.
"Why not?" he asked. "It's our time."