When you’re on a winning team, it’s easy to maintain your competitive spirit.
Practices become more tolerable, gearing up for...
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They don't know his name, his face or his game.
Surprise, prep tennis world: You're looking at Jack Delaney.
The athletic South Medford senior has dedicated his fall seasons to soccer. His winters have been for basketball. In the spring, he's participated in track as a middle-distance runner, mostly to build himself up for the other two sports.
That is, until this year.
The 6-foot-2 Delaney is finally adding tennis — a game that he's played most of his life — to his resume.
"I kind of caught a tennis itch," he says.
For those familiar with Delaney, seeing the 18-year-old do well on the court — the green one, that is — comes as no surprise. The less initiated are left to wonder, "Who is that guy?"
That's just fine with South Medford boys tennis coach Hal Borg.
"He's kind of my ace in the hole right now," Borg says. "He's a wild card. A lot of people out there don't realize he's a tennis player. I was really excited to see him come out this year."
Borg, a longtime player and coach, has been hitting around with Jack's dad — former Division I tennis player John Delaney — for at least 12 years. John competed at the University of Portland.
Late in the basketball season this year, John Delaney and Borg were playing a friendly match when Borg asked if Jack would like to play on the team.
From there, it didn't take much convincing. Two days after the South basketball team returned home from state, Delaney was at tennis practice.
He has returned to a very familiar sport.
Delaney's been swinging the racket since he was 6. Former South boys head coach McKenzie Hilmer used to help instruct youth players with Rogue Valley Swim & Tennis Club professional Frank Inn as a high-schooler and she remembers him.
"Jack was good," says Hilmer, who is not coaching this year as she focuses on receiving her master's in Special Education at Southern Oregon University and teaching at Patrick Elementary in Gold Hill.
Delaney was an irreplaceable defender for the South soccer team and was also one of the best in the state in basketball. The Southern Oregon Hybrid player of the year averaged 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists for the Panthers, who finished 23-5 and won the conference title. At the state tournament, the post averaged 18 points.
John and Jack aren't the only athletes in the Delaney family, either. Tekla, the mother, was a skilled skier and Jack's sister Piper is a runner at Cal State Monterey Bay.
"There is definitely tennis blood in the family," Borg says.
So what, exactly, brought Delaney into the arena of high school tennis? Delaney says he's mostly enjoyed "leisurely" play with friends and family, but "this year, I just really wanted to play tennis and compete in tennis."
At South, he's competing with one of the best in the business.
Delaney may not see a tougher opponent this spring than the one he faces almost daily: 2011 Class 6A state runner-up Matt Pronesti, who has NCAA aspirations.
"Facing the best in practice definitely helps," Delaney says.
Recently, Delaney filled in at No. 1 singles against Grants Pass as a way for Borg to measure where his game was. Delaney has also played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles with Marius Strack, a talented exchange student from Germany.
A breakthrough for both Borg and Delaney came on Saturday when Delaney paired up with Strack at No. 1 doubles. The two, who earlier this year served up a double-bagel defeat to a North Medford combination, picked up a pair of straight-set victories against Sheldon and South Eugene.
Delaney has gone 4-1 so far this year for the Panthers, who are 4-0-2.
Honestly, Delaney says, he's happy playing wherever.
"I'd say I just go along with whatever I can get to make the biggest run at state," Delaney says.
Says Borg: "Of course, our goal is to get him in a position where he will help us win a conference title, whether it is singles or doubles, and ultimately getting him on to state. My focus as a coach is to get him to the highest level."
One thing is certain. Delaney's skills as a basketball player help him tremendously in tennis, where he is an all-court player comfortable at both the base line and net.
Borg's son Tanner, who is now a student at the University of Oregon, won three straight state tennis doubles titles and also played basketball at North Medford. Delaney used to hit around with him.
"I have always felt that basketball and tennis go well together," Borg says. "One is in the winter and one is in the spring. The agility and quickness you gain in basketball really crosses over to tennis well."
The transition has been as smooth as silk for Delaney, who has been turning heads.
"I would say so far every coach I've talked to has been pleasantly surprised at what a nice player he is," Borg says.
As if Delaney's anonymity didn't make him a hard enough read for the opposition, there's another thing that makes him mysterious.
He hides his emotions like a professional poker player.
"I enjoyed watching him play basketball because he never gets riled up and he never gets upset," Borg says. "His opponent never knows if he is upset or if he is pressing. He's a cool customer."
Says Delaney: "I just process everything internally and mentally and try not to let my opponents see how I'm thinking."
They may not know who Jack Delaney is until it's too late.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org