ST. CHARLES – Grant Spellman can be patient when it comes to tennis.
The St. Charles North senior said he and his father devoted hours to figuring out a racket stringing machine that was a Christmas present a few years ago.
“That day we spent like 41/2 hours doing like one racket, just teaching ourselves,” Spellman said. “It’s hard to learn. Between the YouTube videos and advice from other pros I know the area, we eventually pieced it together. Now we can do it in about 45, 40 minutes, but it started off a lot more difficult.”
While adjusting to a new doubles partner for his senior year would seem to call upon Spellman’s patience once more, the returning IHSA state qualifier isn’t so sure that will be necessary. North junior Aaron Amburgey – a transfer from suburban Louisville, Ky. – comes to the North Stars with a strong background, and is expected to emerge as a worthy partner for a promising No. 1 North Stars tandem.
Amburgey and his family moved north last summer and made quite a first impression on North coach Sean Masoncup, who said he instantly knew Amburgey would be the ideal partner for Spellman.
“Being a head coach, you get several emails a year from parents saying they’re moving in, that their kid played this sport or that sport, and the majority of them don’t pan out,” said Masoncup, who coaches girls basketball and boys tennis at North. “And this one actually did. We were lucky to get him.”
Amburgey grew up playing youth tennis tournaments in Kentucky and enjoyed substantial success his first two years of high school playing doubles in his former hometown of Crestwood, Ky.
He said his family researched North’s tennis program when considering relocation options in the Chicago area, and came away enthused. That impression was solidified when he started hitting with Spellman upon moving to St. Charles, and the two have worked to develop chemistry for months leading up to the spring season.
“I haven’t really played with a really big hitter like him,” Amburgey said. “My old partner was more of a consistent guy, a little bit smaller, so I think he actually suits my game a little bit better because he can get some of the higher balls and things like that.”
Amburgey acknowledged he’s not exactly sure what to expect from Illinois competition.
“There’s probably more people here so it could be even a more high level,” Amburgey said. “I haven’t seen some of the better players yet, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Spellman’s presence should provide a measure of comfort. A returning three-year varsity player with 85 career wins, Spellman won two rounds in the IHSA State Tournament last year playing with Keith Hedges, who projects to play at No. 2 doubles this year with Mitch Riggs.
Doubles is a major point of emphasis for Masoncup, who sees huge potential for Spellman and Amburgey’s one season together.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate with doubles players since I took over, and together, they have the least amount of weaknesses of any kids we’ve ever had,” Masoncup said. “So they have the potential to be the best we’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot.”
Spellman has been accepted to Stanford. He does not plan to play tennis there – not intercollegiately, at least – but is thrilled to attend the prestigious university in northern California.
He figures his commitment to tennis – on and off the court – helped his admissions cause.
“I had a lot of sports-related activities on my application, not just playing, but as work,” Spellman said. “I’ve taught tennis and I string tennis rackets as a job out of my basement, so sports are a big part of what I do, and I think because I reflected that in my application, it helped me at that school specifically because they also appreciate sports and athletes.”
Turns out Amburgey isn’t just a potentially dynamite partner for Spellman – he’s also a prime customer.
“He breaks strings all the time,” Spellman said.
TEAMS TO WATCH
The Bulldogs return all 11 starters from last year’s Upstate Eight Conference River champions. The No. 1 doubles team of junior Adam Maris and senior Jeff Lorden (25-6 last year) combine with singles standouts Ryan Sterling and Tim Murat to supply the Bulldogs a strong base with which to build their lineup.
The Cadets are coming off consecutive undefeated regular seasons and are five-time defending conference champions. Varsity returnees John Graft, Ricky Angsten, Kevin Hoss, Dave Demoll, John King and Luke Hoss are poised to keep the Cadets’ tradition cooking.
With three doubles players who have state experience returning (Nick Huang, Ryan Doeckel, John Potts), the Vikings should be especially formidable on that side of the lineup. Fellow varsity returnees Curran McQuilkin, Quade Spellman, Brad Burgess, Jakob Grootens and Christian Fournier will seek to bolster the Vikings’ chances.
St. Charles East
Jasper Koenen supplying the Saints a virtually automatic win at No. 1 singles is a nice starting point. Coach Rob Livermore, though, is also high on the Saints’ depth, with seniors George Spoerl and Matt McCarthy, juniors Colin Jones and Connor Anderson and sophomore Alex Winters among those ready to produce.
St. Charles North
North coach Sean Masoncup is optimistic his team can challenge Batavia in the typically competitive UEC River race. Returning singles players Matt Ernst and Peter O’Brien plus promising doubles tandems Grant Spellman and Aaron Amburgey and Mitch Riggs and Keith Hedges, will be joined by sophomores Trevor Kutzhals and Luke Dunteman.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ricky Angsten, Marmion, Sr.
Angsten and partner Kevin Hoss are back as seniors after the duo won the conference championship at No. 2 doubles last year.
John Graft, Marmion, Sr.
Graft played doubles last year alongside graduated standout Jackson Rettig, with the duo winning three matches at the state tournament.
John King, Marmion, So.
King looks to build off a state tournament singles berth his freshman year, when he placed fourth at the Cadets’ sectional.
Jasper Koenen, St. Charles East, Sr.
The powerfully built Michigan State recruit finished fourth in the state as a junior and will be the standard by which all players in the area measure themselves.
Tim Murat, Batavia, Sr.
Murat went 20-4 as a junior and won the Upstate Eight Conference River championship at No. 2 singles.
John Potts, Geneva, Sr.
Potts went 2-2 at the state tournament playing with graduated doubles partner Nick McCarty last year.
Grant Spellman, St. Charles North, Sr.
Spellman’s powerful strokes should create a multitude of easy putaways at the net for new doubles partner Aaron Amburgey.
Matt Ernst, St. Charles North, So.
North coach Sean Masoncup considers Ernst a state contender after an impressive freshman year. “He’s really improved a lot,” Masoncup said. “It all depends on who’s in our sectional.”
George Spoerl, St. Charles East, Sr.
Spoerl, a returning No. 1 doubles player for the Saints, will acclimate to a new partner, sophomore Alex Winters.
Ryan Sterling, Batavia, Sr.
The Bulldogs’ returning No. 1 singles player is coming off a 21-win season and second-place finish to Koenen in the conference.