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In St. George, Sophomore Makes School History

May 16, 2015 07:42 PM

Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina

ST. GEORGE, S.C. – As Tyree Miller prepared to make local history, all around him were the people who have spent years making his memorable season possible.

There was his mother, Jacqueline Miller, who takes him to the tennis center every day after work. Watching Tyree practice next to her was Ian Jones, who coaches Tyree in his spare time. Also nearby was Barbara Jones, who started the program that hooked Tyree on tennis.

On Monday, Tyree will make all of them proud when he plays in the South Carolina High School League Boys Open Singles Tournament in Cayce. He will be the first tennis player from Woodland High School in nearby Dorchester to play in the tournament.

It’s an honor and I’ll try my best,” he said during his recent practice match here.

Miller practices in St. George earlier this month. He will make school history on Monday. (USTA SC photo.)

Tyree qualified because he has the best record in Region 5, Class AA while playing the No. 1 singles spot, Woodland High coach Laren Clark said. The accomplishment marks the high point of what has been a challenging few years for St. George tennis and Tyree.

Six years ago, Woodland High School didn’t even have a boys tennis team.

In January 2011, the school’s athletic director told Barbara Jones no boys at the school wanted to play tennis. When she showed him a list of 10 names – boys from her USTA Junior Team Tennis program – and the name of the coach she had recruited, Clark, the athletic director still told her no; the team now needed a bus driver.

Finally, only after Clark brought his new commercial driver’s license to the athletic director did the athletic director OK hosting a boys tennis team.

That decision gave Tyree and other boys a tennis pathway.

Tyree started the sport in 2013 as an eighth grader through an after-school program run by the St. George Youth Sports League, which Jones runs. He continued playing that year on the Woodland High team.

In his earliest matches, Tyree remembers growing angry about missed forehands and double faults. Out of frustration, he would drop his head and drag his racket on the court.

Clark, his coach, also recalls Tyree often slicing the ball or only lightly hitting it back to his opponents, who sometimes would use stronger shots to beat Tyree.

That season, he lost every match but one.

Two years later, Tyree's game has evolved. He hits through the ball during matches. "I just like hitting the ball where they can't get it," he said.

But he also still uses spin to deceive his opponents. “Finesse is good but there’s times you gotta (use) power,” Clark told him.

His sportsmanship also has improved.

During a recent practice match, Tyree faced Courtney Simmons, the top girls player in St. George. Facing a break point, Tyree served down the T to Simmons' backhand. Her return went to Tyree's backhand, but he miffed it into the net. He lost his serve.

He calmly retrieved his ball at the net, practicing shadow backhands along the way.

Nice shot,” he told Simmons as they changed sides.

He’s got a poker face,” coach Clark had said earlier. “He never gives the opponent anything to feed off of.”

Tyree will take that focused demeanor with him when he makes St. George history on Monday. His mother, his volunteer coach and Barbara Jones will be there rooting for him.