Centennial's Thomas, is the reigning POY and still going strong

Centennial's Thomas, is the reigning POY and still going strong

Local athletes are roughly midway through their respective seasons, and some of the best and brightest No. 1 singles players have emerged. COLIN LIKAS takes a closer look at three of these youngsters:

CHAMPAIGN — Wade Baillon missed out on a golden opportunity last year.

While a sophomore at St. Thomas More, Baillon suffered from an illness so debilitating that it caused the Class 1A Champaign Central Sectional singles champion to miss the 2018 state meet.

First-year Sabers coach Travis Tressler sees that actively fueling Baillon this season, as STM's bona fide leader boasts a 7-0 record at No. 1 singles.

"He wants to prove that not only is he the best player in the area," Tressler said, "but that he can compete with the best players in the state."

Tressler has seen Baillon's game evolve over the years, even though this is Tressler's inaugural campaign running the Sabers.

The boss is a 2014 STM graduate who grew up hitting the courts with Baillon's older sister, former Illini Madie. Tressler also saw the younger Baillon come through summer programs at Lincolnshire Fields Country Club.

"He's a really good kid and a really hard worker," Tressler said. "He just hates to lose. He's a competitor, and it's fun to coach that."

Tressler was most impressed by Baillon, the defending News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year, during the Sabers' April 1 matchup with Centennial.

First, Baillon rallied from a second-set deficit in his singles bout with Jared Thomas to take the victory in three sets.

Then, Baillon and doubles partner George Atkins braved the dark and cold — Tressler estimates it was 40 degrees — to finalize the event with a positive result.

"They were the last two out there and beat a good doubles team in a third-set tiebreaker," Tressler said. "It shows what a leader he is, staying out there fighting."

Thomas' return sparks Chargers

CHAMPAIGN — Teri Scaggs recognized Jared Thomas had to blaze his own path last year, when Thomas opted to forgo his junior season with Centennial in favor of working with former college players and focusing on obtaining a tennis scholarship.

With that in the bag — Thomas is set to attend Marian University in Indianapolis — the Chargers senior and 2017 N-G Player of the Year is back on Scaggs' squad.

And the impact has been recognizable.

Centennial is 8-0 in duals thus far, and Thomas carries a 10-2 ledger at No. 1 singles. His only local defeat is to STM's Baillon, and among his outcomes are a runner-up display at the Bloomington Invitational.

"We're very grateful to have him on the team," Scaggs said. "He's relieved ... he's committed to a college team. It's one relief he has off his plate. He's focused as ever and wants to do well at the state tournament."

Alex Amatyleon, Scaggs' assistant, sees much of the same from Thomas.

"He stacks up quite well," Amatyleon said. "He beat a very sound and strong opponent, Raj (Sinha) out of Springfield, who he had not beaten before. The players he's supposed to beat, he's beaten them soundly."

There aren't many weak points in Thomas' game, according to Amatyleon.

"He has an overpowering, well above-average forehand," Amatyleon said. "He has a nice strong serve. His backhand, it may not be a weapon, but it's consistent enough."

And even though Thomas' tennis future is laid out, he's still willing to alter his style to fit specific situations.

"He was down 5-4 against Mattoon's No. 1 singles player (last Tuesday)," Amatyleon said. "I told him specifically what he needed to do, and he executed it to perfection. It's one thing to coach a player, but it's another for him to listen and execute."

Jagroop takes top billing

URBANA — Dave Bergandine boasts nine seniors on his Uni High roster. Yet his No. 1 singles competitor is a sophomore.

But Arav Jagroop has proven worthy.

He carried an 8-5 record into Tuesday's tilt at Centennial and appears to be having few issues making the jump from his No. 2 singles slot the previous year.

"He's definitely a stronger player this year and looking to represent us at the sectional in May," Bergandine said. "He's ... done incredibly well in duals and also performed quite well in tournaments."

Being the No. 1, Jagroop automatically carries some leadership responsibility.

Rounding back to those nine upperclassmen, though, Bergandine notes they take some pressure off Jagroop.

"He's still somewhat in the background in that regard," Bergandine said. "He'll definitely be stepping up the next couple years."

Jagroop also is an Illineks basketball player, which Bergandine feels gives his pupil an extra dash of athleticism on the tennis court.

As far as Jagroop's style with the racket, Bergandine believes Jagroop is "capable of staying on the court with just about anybody."

"There are times he really uses his attack mode and has some very powerful ground strokes," Bergandine said. "He's excellent at placing the ball, and he's picking up additional techniques because he's playing a little bit of doubles."

The next step for Jagroop is testing himself against local No. 1s.

The only such foe he's seen is STM's Baillon, suffering a loss in that meeting. With Centennial, Danville, Champaign Central and Urbana still on the docket, opportunities exist for Jagroop to stand out in the area pack.

"That's going to be the real test," Bergandine said, "to see how he does on the No. 1 court."