Tennis Wolverines striving for personal best

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Tue., May. 24, 2011
Jakob Nelson, a sophomore, has the ball in his sights in third doubles for Griswold High School. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Jakob Nelson, a sophomore, has the ball in his sights in third doubles for Griswold High School. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Coaching a team that’s anchored by one superstar can be tricky. That’s the pleasant dilemma Griswold boys’ tennis coach Katherine Mann has faced for the past four years with ECC champ Brandon Roode on her squad.

Roode, who’s undefeated in the regular season for his high school career, has had the GHS first singles spot to himself from day one. But he’s not a team of one.

 “The range of playing [on the team] is so diverse. We’ve got a lot of people who never played tennis, or only played in gym class,” said Mann. “With Brandon at such a different level, there’s no way I could do this alone.” She splits coaching duties with her assistant Sue Bjornberg.

With the wide disparity in abilities, Mann said she focuses on each of her players' individual improvement. “A lot of the kids I’ve got are very athletic,” she said, citing freshmen Jordan Bradeen and Frank Rivera and sophomore Jacob Nelson, who is a competitive figure skater.

“Those three are really picking [tennis] up quickly,” said Mann. “That center core strength really helps you at tennis.”

Although at press time the Wolverines had just one victory under their belt, against Ledyard, Mann said they’ve come close with a few other teams, notably New London and Killingly. The team, like all this year’s spring sports, has battled rain postponements as well as opponents.

“They’ve worked really hard, and they’ve been developing this season,” Mann said of her team. “They’re kids involved in music and other sports, and I think that’s important too.”

Roode is one of six seniors – three-fifths of Mann’s varsity – who will graduate June 18. She’s coached many of them since freshman year. “It’s going to be difficult to have that many go,” she said. “Last year I only lost one senior.”

Coach's Corner

Griswold High School Boys’ Tennis Coach Katey Mann

Number of years coaching: 21

“I’m a longtime tennis player myself – I play four days a week in the off-season,” Mann said. “It’s a game I just love.” She said many of the novice players she’s coached over the years come back to visit and tell her they still play regularly, too.

Seniors: A.J. Fontaine, Harrison McNair, Stephen Pendleton, Zack Restor, Brandon Roode, Jonathan Wibberley.

Sports Spotlight: players to watch

Brandon Roode, Senior, First doubles

Roode, a nationally-ranked high school tennis player, is undefeated in the regular season, with a total of 62 career wins. He’s a two-time ECC champion as well. He plans to attend Nichols College in Dudley, Mass. next year, majoring in sports management.

Ratnapal Jem, Junior, Doubles

Jem came to GHS from his native Bangladesh via Thailand, where he studied five years in a Buddhist monastery. He’s multi-lingual, speaking Thai, Bengali and Hindi as well as English. This is his third year at Griswold and his second year playing tennis. “I like it. It’s pretty cool,” he said.


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