By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Not many tennis players have the right mindset to deal with the idea that, though they hit their best shot, it isn’t going to score the point.
After earning Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year honors in 2012, Geneva’s Jacob Groce went to work on exactly that part of his game.
“A big part of it was the mental game and being able to grind out points and getting to the next point,” Groce, who will play tennis while attending Division III Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., said. “It’s about how long you can grind out a point when you’re trying to play good players. That was my goal.”
Groce, the 2013 Player of the Year, understood in order to take a step forward as a player, he had to address that part of the way he plays.
“I learned everybody makes mistakes,” the son of Rory and Laura Groce said. “You can’t go through a match without making errors. You can’t let it destroy the rest of your game. You have to take from it and do something different the next point to win it.”
“He worked a lot on controlling his emotions on the court,” Geneva coach Phil Dubsky said. “He was not wasting energy on fussing and fuming and other non-productive behaviors. He’s become a better competitor this year.”
In trying to improve, Groce took to playing with those players he hoped to compete with.
“One of the things he did was spend most of the winter at One Wellness with Brian Smallwood,” Dubsky said. “He got to hit with some very good players. He hit with three state qualifiers and that helped him a lot. He got a lot more solid this year.
“He worked hard and he’s a great competitor.”
“I always play to the level of my competition,” Groce said. “It was great playing with three state qualifiers at least two times a week. It was good just having that connection players I could go out and bang balls with and have a good conversation afterward. It was a good experience for me. It really improved my game.”
A big part of learning from playing that kind of competition was Groce had to learn that sometimes, his best wasn’t going to be good enough and that he would have to keep fighting.
“The biggest thing was to get to that next level, I had to learn that my best shot isn’t always going to win the point,” Groce said. “They taught me I was going to have to battle and go from that shot to the next one. They taught I wasn’t going to hit a winner, that I had to battle and take the point out of their hands. That’s the next level.”
Having gained that knowledge only enhanced the attributes Groce already displayed.
“He has tenacity and tremendous athleticism,” Dubsky said. “He never gives up a game, he never gives up on a match and he never gives up on a point. He’s hard to play against because you have to hit it so good. He chases down done everything. He forces people to make errors because he chases down so much.”
Groce became the kind of player coaches use as an example.
“The greatest compliment I can give Jacob Groce is during the district-qualifying match, he was playing a kid from Beachwood. The coach brought his whole team over. I said, ‘I like what you did there. I try and do the same to get them to support each other.’
“He said, ‘I didn’t bring them over to support our player. I brought them over to see you player. I wanted them to see what determination, desire and grit are all about.’”
Groce reached that level in qualifying for the district tournament as a singles player. In doing so, he gave Dubsky an anchor to build his lineup around.
“The was the first time we’ve had a No.-1 player,” Dubsky said. “Through the last 12 years, when we played a great team, we might surrender first and second singles then really start the match.
“Going in, knowing you have a great chance to win first singles changes the whole psychology of the match.”
It wasn’t just the players Groce took to playing in his free time that helped. There were also a number of coaches who provided some insight along the way.
“A lot of it was the people around me,” Groce said. “They were able to tell me what to do next. A lot of playing at that next level was Coach Dubsky and Brian Smallwood telling me what to do to beat those players. They know the approach you have to take. I got a lot of help on the way. That was nice.”
All it took for the help to work it’s magic was being coachable.
“Tennis is the kind of sport that if you listen and make the adjustments, you can get really good pretty quickly,” Groce said. “I’m willing to work and listen to what they tell me and try my best to use it in practice.”
And when trying to implement everything he had picked up became tough, Groce had good people to lean on with his parents and sister, Emily.
“I give my parents a lot of credit,” Groce said. “I give a lot of credit to my parents. They made almost every single one of my matches this year and we went from Erie to Beachwood and all the way down to the district. I got so much support from my parents and my sister, even when I was down after a tough match and didn’t want it, they were there to pick me up.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.