Sep. 2—JAMESTOWN — Like father, like son takes on a whole new meaning when you look at Brock and Braxton Burkett’s tennis careers.
“There are some eerie similarities between us that are a little bit ironic,” said Brock, the assistant coach of the Jamestown High School boys tennis team. “For me, I was a football player in fifth, sixth and seventh grade but I had a younger brother who wanted to play tennis so I went and bought a cheap racquet and started playing with him and figured out that it was pretty fun. Then in eighth grade, I quit football and started playing tennis.
“(My son) Braxton was also a football player but my middle kid, Broden, wanted to start doing tennis lessons,” he said. “We told Braxton that if he wasn’t enjoying football, maybe he should try tennis and he picked it up from there. So for both of us, we started playing because of our younger brothers.”
He went on:
“This is where some of the irony sets in — my freshman year was my first year making the varsity squad — again similar to Braxton — and ironically my freshman year was (JHS head tennis) coach John Ness’ senior year so I played with Coach Ness and now he’s coaching my kid,” Brock said.
Since picking up a racquet for the first time two and half years ago, Braxton has quickly risen through the ranks of the Blue Jay tennis program.
In a preseason interview, Ness said Braxton is one of the most promising members on the JHS tennis team’s roster. Ness said with practice and more experience, there is no reason why the freshman won’t be one of the top tennis players in the state.
“Mentally he doesn’t play tennis like a freshman,” Brock said of Braxton. “He’s faced scenarios throughout his summer tournaments and last year as an eighth grader where he’s had to battle back and situations where he’s been in the driver’s seat and he’s had to close it out.
“He found success and continued to build on that,” he said. “High school tennis is about keeping the ball in play and trying to build consistency over power. Last year kind of set the stage for him for that and now he’s starting to add some velocity on his serves, his forehands and his backhands.”
Along with playing in United States Tennis Association summer tournaments, Braxton also developed a sort of summer training program where he would go to Bolinger Courts and practice hitting and serving. Brock said Braxton was regularly at the courts for two to three hours a day, either by himself or with his cousin, Luke LeFevre.
“It was thanks to the very supportive tennis community that I was able to be at the courts,” Braxton said. “Consistently hitting fueled my love for the game. My motivation to play came from a desire to make the varsity lineup so I capitalized on every opportunity to hit.”
While the freshman has some reps under this belt entering the season, he’s in for a whole new challenge the next month and a half.
“To go grab a racquet and play tennis with some friends isn’t difficult,” Brock said. “But to play at a varsity level and find success at a varsity level, you’ve really got to key in on those key items to make sure you are equipped to go out there and play. To be able to compete with them, you’ve got to have the hand-eye coordination, the endurance, agility and reaction time.”
Braxton kicked off the year on Aug. 29 with a nonconference match against Bismarck High’s Gabe Hanson. The freshman fell 6-1, 6-1 but is eager to get back to business this coming week.
The Jays will be hosting Valley City on Tuesday. The nonconference dual is scheduled to begin at 4:15 p.m. Jamestown’s first conference dual is slated for Sept. 8 at Williston.
Regional play is scheduled for Oct. 5-6 in Mandan. The 2023 state tournament will be held Oct. 12-14 in Grand Forks. Braxton said his goal for the year is to advance to the state tourney as a team and as an individual — much like Brock did with the Blue Jays 20 years ago.
“(My) hand-eye coordination has to be next to perfect every time and (my) form has to be top tier in order to play against higher level opponents,” Braxton said. “I feel good and after getting to see the incoming seventh grade class, I am very hopeful that (the Blue Jays) will be pretty solid in the years to come.”