CALUMET CITY, Ill. (October 26, 2023) – TF North girls tennis coach Mark McDaniel had a hunch about Alex Thomas and it paid off better than either could have imagined.
Thomas, a senior who had never played tennis before this year, and junior Precious Agwu teamed at No. 1 doubles for TF North this fall. They went undefeated in South Suburban Blue dual meets and qualified for last weekend’s IHSA Class 1A state tournament by finishing fourth at the Marian Catholic Sectional.
The duo went 0-2 at state to finish the season with a 12-8 record.
Trying out tennis
It all started last winter at a parent-teacher conference.
“(McDaniel) said, ‘I see that you’re strong, you’re dedicated. Do you want to come out to practice?'” Thomas said this week. “I was like, sure. So it was one cold morning, we didn’t have school and we practiced in our small Gold Gym. And I liked it so I decided to stick with it.”
McDaniel saw right away his instincts had been correct.
“When she first came to the gym and I saw her hit, it was natural, it was effortless,” he said. “I needed a partner for Precious and I found one. It was a gift.”
Why did McDaniel pick Thomas to recruit?
“I’ve known Alex’s family for many years,” he said. “They would come and visit me during parent-teacher conference.”
So when Thomas walked into this particular meeting with her mom, McDaniel figured why not ask?
That was the beginning of the journey, which featured 6:45 a.m. workouts four days a week in the gym in preparation for this season.
“We put this machine together,” McDaniel said.
Each player brought a particular skill set to the partnership.
“For me, it’s playing at the net and my serves,” Agwu said. “I’ve improved a lot throughout the season.”
Thomas also prides herself on her play at the net, as well as “just going after every ball despite how far away it is or where I’m at on the court.”
Agwu, the experienced member of the duo, had a good feeling about the partnership and wasn’t surprised by the team’s success.
“It’s been a good experience,” Agwu said. “From the start, we worked very well together and our skills were comparable. So we didn’t have to worry about one or the other person messing up a lot.”
Agwu started prepping for this season soon after the last one ended.
“I think for sure I was going to get to state because I put in a lot of work,” she said. “I started off in November, practicing in the mornings before school and eventually I saw my skill grow. And that’s when I knew.”
Though Thomas was one-and-done for high school tennis, she isn’t walking away from the sport.
“I want to still come to practices even though the season’s over,” she said. “And I also want to continue to play in college. I want to do club (tennis).”
Agwu has one more high school season. Her role remains to be seen, according to McDaniel.
“I want to try her at singles,” he said, though doubles is another option if another talented partner such as Thomas emerges.
For now, though, they’ll savor the memories of their run to state.
“It was really fun to experience,” Thomas said. “It was very challenging but in the end it was fun.”
“It was a very good experience,” Agwu said. “At first, I was really nervous. But eventually I was enjoying the moment and happy to be there.”