CHAMPAIGN — James and Max Braun’s parents wanted their sons to discover a sport they could play together.
That’s the straightforward way of explaining how the current Centennial athletes got into tennis when James was 9 or 10 and Max was a couple years younger.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” Max said. “We usually hit in the summer, after dinner.”
Naturally, the siblings loved to compete against one another on the court. But that waned a bit when James suffered a right elbow injury that decreased his swinging arm’s range of motion by roughly 30 degrees.
“I got about 20 degrees of it back through physical therapy,” James said. “It’s just something I have to live with, and occasionally when I play, my elbow will hurt.”
James still went out for high school tennis when he became a Charger. Max ultimately joined him on Centennial’s team this school year.
Has that competitive fire returned?
“We still compete with each other, but not in the same ways,” James said.
“I’d go on a run, and James would come with me,” Max added, “and at the end, we’d just sprint for fun.”
James and Max might compete less against each other from a tennis perspective these days.
But they’ve got plenty of athletes to take on at this week’s IHSA Class 1A boys’ tennis state tournament, which begins Thursday in multiple locations centered around Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.
Max, a freshman, is Class 1A’s sixth-seeded singles player, and James, a junior, possesses the Class 1A doubles seventh seed alongside junior partner Lino Jo.
Should either or both of the Brauns finish inside the top six of their respective brackets, they’d earn Centennial its first-ever boys’ tennis state medal.
“It’s a great opportunity for both of us to do well at state,” James said.
“It’s going to be really fun going with other teammates to the tournament together,” Max added. “Usually, I’m just by myself with my mom.”
Both Brauns have played in United States Tennis Association tournaments over the years, as well, though not quite at the same level.
James’ work largely was centered in the Midwest before stopping because of his injury, while Max continues to suit up for national events.
Chargers coach Teri Scaggs said one of her assistants, Alex Amatyleon, encouraged Max to make some time for high school tennis, as well.
“It’s special for me,” James said. “I’ve wanted him to join the team. ... It’s special we’re able to do it this year.”
Max admits tennis is his primary extracurricular focus.
“I want to be as good as I can, so there’s really not too much time (for other activities),” Max said. “If I want to be the best at tennis, I can’t play soccer or do something else that takes a lot of time.”
James’ injury afforded him the chance to explore some new opportunities. And he found a passion in robotics, joining Champaign-Urbana’s FIRST Robotics Competition Team 4096 known as Ctrl-Z. Braun and the team competed at the 2019 world championships in Detroit.
“At the beginning of the calendar year, we’re given challenges and have to build a robot to play the challenges or game,” James said. “I’ve really come to love robotics and just the challenges that brings. ... (Tennis and robotics) are quite similar. Both are very competitive, but at the end of the day, the important thing is to learn and have fun.”
James and Max are having plenty of fun with Centennial tennis this spring.
The Chargers finished 10-0 during their dual schedule, won the Big 12 Conference tournament title and placed first as a team during last weekend’s Class 1A Danville Sectional.
Max dropped just six sets across four matches en route to capturing the sectional singles crown. James and Jo swept each of their first three matches before fending off Champaign Central’s Ezra Bernhard and Brayden Helfer (7-5, 6-4) to take first in sectional doubles.
“I was really glad the team could win and two Centennial teams could come out on top,” Max said. “Spending time with the team and just watching James and me in the finals and winning it all, that’s really cool.”
Max begins state play Thursday against Grayslake North junior Dylan Clausen at Vernon Hills High School, while James and Jo begin their run versus Mt. Zion junior Rylee Gower and freshman Will Shade at Palatine High School.
“It’s a new experience for both of us,” James said. “Max is a freshman, so he’s obviously not been to state. And I was unable to qualify freshman year. ... (We’re) going about this just as we would other tournaments.”