Blue Springs South junior Sean Nguyen didn’t know what to expect from this season.
Nguyen has played tennis since he was 12 years old and has taken lessons from almost every club in the Kansas City metro area, so he had a lot of experience before playing for the Jaguars varsity team as a freshman in 2017. He sat out his sophomore season to concentrate on his studies. He then came back this year to play his junior season and admittedly was rusty at first.
“Coming into the season I wasn’t expecting much,” Nguyen said. “In my first few matches, I was shanking the ball and not making good contact. My fitness was down. It was hard to get back into shape.
But Nguyen eventually got back on track. Later in the season, he beat Blue Springs junior Luke David 6-1, 6-0 to claim the Class 2 District 14 singles title and advanced to state following a 6-0, 6-1 sectional win over Rockhurst’s Hudson Kotre.
It was his first trip to state and he took a pair of tough losses to start the tournament, ending his season with a 15-5 record. Because of his breakout season, Nguyen is the 2019 Examiner Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
At state, he dropped a heartbreaker to St. Louis University High’s Nicholas Fisher in three sets and then was eliminated by Joplin’s Garret Lewis in a 6-1, 6-1 loss.
“I felt like I could have got all-state (an honor given to players who finish in the top eight),” Nguyen said. “I had my chances. I should have got sixth.”
Fisher was a familiar opponent for Nguyen.
“I faced him during the summer and I beat him, but I knew he was good,” Nguyen said. “He was about on my level. I knew my next opponent would be just as good or better then me. The second guy was a left and he was really consistent. He attacked every time there was a short ball.”
It was a tough journey to get back to the level he was during his freshman year when he was still consistently training and playing tennis year round. It started when he was just practicing with his South teammates.
“It was difficult making contact with the ball,” he said. “Being out on the court felt great but I didn’t feel like myself.”
Blue Springs South coach Nathan Mooney said Nguyen put in a lot of work to get back into shape and it eventually paid off. Nguyen said he felt like he was back to playing like he once had during the St. Joseph Central Tournament to be exact, one in which he won the A singles bracket.
“You could tell that he was a little rusty,” Mooney said. “He kept fighting through it. At the St. Joe Tournament, he had one heck of a match against Park Hill South’s Cooper Hayes. That kid can just bash the ball.
“(Sean) came out and held his own.
“We only won one match and we had to win four singles matches to beat Park Hill South. I didn’t know if Sean could hold his own against Cooper because Cooper was just hitting it well. Sean just kept fighting, and I was thinking, ‘Sean might be able to pull this off.’”
And Nguyen did, and ended up having the best season of his career even after spending a year away from the sport. Mooney said he knew Nguyen still had a good chance of making state even before the season started.
“He was close his freshman year,” Mooney said. “We knew we were going to have to play Rockhurst at some point. We looked at common opponents and I felt like Sean could take their No. 1 and 2. They ended up putting their top guys in the doubles bracket. That’s when I felt like, ‘OK. Sean’s got this.’”
He did and he made it to state, but Nguyen wants more than that. Next season, he wants to place in the top eight and get all-state. Now that he’s committed to tennis year round, he aims to make that goal a reality.
“I know I am going to put in the work and work on my fitness,” Nguyen said. “I am going to play matches and take private lessons and hopefully get all-state next year.”
Mooney and Nguyen talked about that goal on the car ride back home from the state tournament in Springfield.
“He was like, ‘Ugh! What do I need to do?’” Mooney said. “He worked hard this year. A lot of the guys he went up against this year graduated. Things could open up for him next year. If he can put in the work, he will be up there. He has a good shot at it. He’s hungry.”