Building a program is like forming a puzzle — because it’s about getting the right pieces to fit into your system and work together as one team.
As a whole, there may not be a more committed or passionate human being about that entire process than Steve Boone when one listens to the Cincinnati native.
The first-year tennis coach for both programs loves the Shawnee State men’s and women’s tennis programs so much, in fact, that he drives from Cincinnati to Portsmouth and back several nights a week just to be around the individuals that he is coaching.
But it’s a level of dedication that Boone says is more fun than work.
“I can sum these first few months up very easily: I’m having fun,” Boone said. “I still pinch myself thinking, ‘Ok, when’s this dream going to end?’ It hasn’t, and I hope that it never does. “It’s just fantastic. I am honored and thrilled to be at Shawnee State and be a part of the historical significance with the men’s program as well. I’m just happy and honored to be here.”
That level of optimism has really worked out well for the Shawnee State tennis programs, who have already made significant strides over the course of the 2017 season — to the point where the Bears are hopeful that they’ll be competing with the Lindsey Wilson’s and Campbellsville’s of the Mid-South Conference for years to come.
On the women’s side of the spectrum, Shawnee State started out the season by taking home three consecutive matches against Mount Vernon Nazarene (6-3), Ohio Christian (6-3), and Pikeville (Ky.), (5-4).
The win over the Cougars allowed the Bears to record their first victory since April 15, 2015, while the victories against the Trailblazers and UPike allowed Shawnee State to take home three matches in a row for the first time since the Bears accomplished the feat from March 12 to March 20, 2010.
But it doesn’t stop there.
With at least six games still remaining, Shawnee State has already accumulated its second-best record of the decade. And the Bears have already won 17 matches this season, compared to just four last year in a winless campaign.
As for the men, the Bears have managed to obtain three wins themselves in the first full year of its existence. In addition to wins over Mount Vernon Nazarene (8-1) and Ohio Christian (8-1), Boone’s squad also picked up a victory over Alice Lloyd (8-0) last weekend. The men have already won 25 matches in their inaugural campaign on the court.
“Both programs are setting the pace for years to come,” Boone said. “The women won three matches in a row for the first time since 2010, which is of historical significance, and obviously, the men are making history with every match that they’ve played so far this season. Being around the youthful group that I’ve got, it puts a spring in your step. They keep you young mentally, as well as physically, which was evident when I got out there (last Thursday) in practice hitting with them. Everything about it is just fun, and I couldn’t be happier.”
The area natives have also played a huge role in bringing the team full-circle with the community by showing off their own dedication and skills.
In all, seven of the 11 members of the men’s unit, and four of the nine women’s tennis players, hold ties to a local school.
However, they’ve also proven to be quite successful over the course of the year, as well.
On the men’s side, McDermott native Nick Johnson has won three matches apiece in singles and doubles play while serving in the team’s No. 1 slot all year in both sectors, Lucasville natives Rodney Spriggs and CJ Burk, along with Portsmouth’s Zach Colley, have collected three singles and doubles wins apiece in their own right, and Minford’s Tyler Sherwood has won three singles matches to round out a strong effort from the locals on the men’s side. Wheelersburg’s Megan Meyers, however, has been no slouch on the women’s side, either — she’s also won three singles and doubles matches while serving as one-half of the team’s No. 1 doubles pairing.
Add in the fact that Shawnee State only loses two seniors — one for each unit — and the men’s and women’s tennis units are ones that offer a ton of potential and upside.
“Most of the players are from the immediate Portsmouth area,” Boone said. “It’s a good group of kids, on the men’s and women’s side, with good talent. As a first-year coach, it’s excellent to see how coachable the players are and how willing they are to improving their games. That makes my job a lot easier.”
A job that Boone knows that he wouldn’t have without the faith that Rick Kurtz, the president of the school, Jeff Hamilton, the athletic director, and William Daehler put in him.
“It’s humbling and overwhelming,” Boone said. “Those three are the reason why I’m here. Obviously, (William) Daehler with his continued backing of the tennis programs, (Rick) Kurtz with him going with (Jeff) Hamilton’s recommendation of me, and obviously, Mr. Hamilton in his faith in me to not only get the program off of the ground, but also, maintaining and moving the women’s program forward as well.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7