The Apache men’s and women’s tennis teams are the reigning national junior college champions.In May, the women won in a dominating performance while the men shared the national title after finishing in a tie.
John Peterson, head tennis coach, said that hard work, team chemistry and a little luck was the recipe for success.
Competing at the Reffkin Tennis Center in Tucson, Ariz., the Apache ladies finished 16 points ahead of runner-up and last year’s champion — Lee College of Baytown. They won all three doubles flights and eight of nine singles flights. The ladies were so strong that they actually secured the title before the final day of competition.
Peterson, who is in his 23rd season as head coach said, “he never had a more dominating force performance out of a team.” After securing the title early, Peterson hoped that the girls would continue to hold their grounds.
“We went to bed that night knowing that we were national champions. We could have gone out, done the antler dance, and smashed champagne bottles on the side of the van, but the girls were really good, they wanted this for themselves and their team. The Apache ladies definitely didn’t disappoint me at all,” said Peterson. “I should have known them better than that.”
Although the Apaches dominated the women’s championship, the men’s tournament was much closer. TJC walked away with titles in Flight 3 doubles and Flight 3 and Flight 5 in the singles competition. The tournament was held at Collin College in Plano and then, when thunderstorms struck, was moved indoors to the Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson.
TJC, Collin and Laredo Community College all finished with 40 points resulting in a three-way tie. This was the first time in NJCAA men’s tennis that there was ever a triple victory.
“The guys played really well,” Peterson said. They fought their hardest against the odds and overcame.”
Among the Apache men’s and women’s team members who won individual national titles was Brooke Dennis. A sophomore from Abilene, Dennis, who is also a two-time high school state champion, obtained a 6-2, 6-0 victory in Flight 4 singles. She lost the fewest games of any TJC player at the national tournament.
“She’s a joy to coach,” said Peterson. “She really wants to learn and grow. A lot of Division 1 opportunities were offered to her straight out of high school, but she chose our college. She wanted a better Division 1 opportunity, and I felt compelled to make sure she got just that.”
Dennis credits coach Peterson for the team’s success.
“Winning is pressuring but regardless, the team must prove to everyone that TJC tennis is the best,” said Dennis. “Coach Peterson pushes you to be even better, putting you in an uncomfortable position. Being uncomfortable makes you step outside of your comfort zone, which is what greatly contributed to all of our success.”
The championship wins are bringing recruiters closer to home and student athletes of TJC are getting university level opportunities.
“The sports program at Tyler Junior College is by far, one of the best in the nation when tennis comes to mind,” said Mike Griffith, men’s tennis coach at Gardner – Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C.
Griffith had been watching TJC’s tennis team closely, communicating with Peterson. Peterson recommended one of his star tennis players John Devose, originally from Germany, to be considered for a signing at Gardner’s award winning institution.
“John’s role was important. He was the vocal leader, the guy who was always looking forward to playing, like a child on Christmas Eve waiting to open presents under the tree. He brought a sense of enthusiasm and determination in everything he did. In fact, it rubbed off on some of the other guys,” said Peterson.
Peterson said although he is looking forward to this year, he hated to see last year’s sophomores leave.
“I will miss the girls and guys, but it’s just a part of life,” said Peterson . “That’s one of the things about a junior college. You’re always looking forward instead of smelling the roses while you’re in the rose capital of Texas. I am so proud that the men’s and women’s tennis teams are graduating with such honors. I only hope they’ve learned that winning is not always what’s important, but in how much you’ve had fun in the whole experience.”
The Apache players say they are thankful for not only winning but also for the lessons they have learned.
“You might not be the best tennis player, you might not have that record breaking Division 1 title, but by golly when you leave here, you’ll carry with you more respect for yourselves and for others,” said Dennis.