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updated: 4/12/2011 9:36 PM

Granger's return serves Grayslake Central

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  • No. 1 singles player Mitch Granger hits a forehand during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.

       No. 1 singles player Mitch Granger hits a forehand during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • No. 1 singles player Mitch Granger hits a baseline shot during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.

       No. 1 singles player Mitch Granger hits a baseline shot during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • No. 2 singles player Steve Kveton hits a forehand during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.

       No. 2 singles player Steve Kveton hits a forehand during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • No. 2 doubles player Jack Lettenair volleys during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.

       No. 2 doubles player Jack Lettenair volleys during his match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent

Mitch Granger's cooler is blue and white and big.

It could almost double as a cavernous venue, with a retractable lid, for an AAA bantam hockey game. Zamboni included.

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It's that big.

He somehow lugs it, all by himself, to courts for his tennis matches.

"What's in my cooler?" said Granger, a senior and Grayslake Central's No. 1 singles player. "I'll tell you what's in it. A lot of fluids, like Gatorade. Sandwiches and peanut butter are also in there. And I usually pack Pedialyte (a rehydration solution).

"Pedialyte-- that's for babies, normally," the 18-year-old added. "But I need it. It helps prevent muscle cramps; I've had some cramp issues."

Granger also needs to sit down and rest during changeovers in matches. Chairs, though, are rarely provided for players at duals and invites.

"I use my cooler as a chair," said the Ram, ever prepared, ever resourceful.

Granger sat, stood and hurt populations of tennis balls in a hot state throughout the 2009-10 academic year, after moving to Florida with his father, Ed, who worked as director of sales for Quantum Storage Systems in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.

Mitch, 2-2 in singles at the state tournament as a sophomore at Grayslake Central, attended perennial tennis power Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., striking winners at No. 3 singles and helping the Lightning take runner-up honors at the 4A state tournament last spring.

"The tennis climate down there is amazing, incredibly competitive," said Granger, who, along with his dad, moved back to Illinois before his senior year after Quantum expanded in the Chicago area. "Florida tennis wills you to become a better tennis player."

Granger, physically and mentally, is a better netter -- considerably better -- than he was in 2009. His shoulders don't slouch after he loses a tough point. A cringe no longer appears after he lets a comfy 5-2 lead become a shaky 5-4 advantage.

His on-court body language now screams positivity.

"Poker face ... I've been trying my best to play with a poker face at all times," said the 6-foot, 160-pound captain, who won nine of his first 10 matches this spring, including three straight-setters to capture the No. 1 singles title at the Elk Grove Invite last Saturday. "I've settled down, and I'm more mature as a player."

Grayslake Central coach Chuck Lawson first checked out the ripened Ram at a local indoor tournament last fall. He couldn't wait to deploy Granger on courts in the spring.

"I could tell, right away, he was stronger, more focused and in tremendous shape," Lawson recalled. "But here's the thing about Mitch, who has been playing forever and plays in so many tournaments (30) each year: Tennis is so important in his life, and that becomes apparent as soon as you see him compete.

"Awesome, awesome kid," he added.

Kid Granger, ranked 112th in the Boys 18 singles division of the United State Tennis Association's Midwest Section, recorded the biggest win of his life earlier year -- against Dad Granger. It was Mitch's first victory over Ed, who played PAC-10 tennis at Washington State and, according to Mitch, "is a crafty, seasoned player."

They shook hands at the net afterward. It was an emotional moment. Ed's eyes welled up, Mitch noted; Mr. Granger was profoundly proud of his son's feat. Mitch's eyes also turned moist.

"He's not just my father," Mitch said. "He's my coach, my sparring partner. And he's my best friend."

Mitch and Ed teamed up, as an unseeded tandem, to finish 9th-12th at a national father-son indoor tournament in Philadelphia last month. That also was quite an accomplishment, considering many of the sons in the draw either play or had played college tennis.

Granger committed to play college tennis at Western Illinois University on Nov. 10, becoming first-year Leathernecks coach Chris Kane's first recruit. Kane, formerly a tennis coach at Lake Forest College, struck shots for the University of Notre Dame's tennis team.

"He has so much tennis knowledge," Granger said. "I am determined to get to another level of tennis, and I am confident Coach Kane will help me reach that level. I call him up after each of my matches to discuss the match. It's sort of a business call, at first, and then it typically turns into a friendly conversation. I consider him a friend."

Granger, a big server, considers his slice backhand his most reliable shot. It is, at times, the ideal precursor for his topspin-heavy forehand. Granger then often uses his improved footwork to run around his backhand -- after an opponent normally has no choice but to answer a dying slice shot with a feeble half-swing -- and blast a winner to a deep corner.

"His footwork -- that helps with his consistency, and his consistency is one of the best aspects of Mitch's game," said the Rams' No. 2 singles player, senior Steve Kveton, who served 'em up at No. 1 singles last spring. "He adjusts well to shots, hits the same shots. To do that, you need good footwork."

"Mitch is a serious guy on the court," he added. "Off the court, he's fun, with a great personality."

Grayslake Central athletic director Thomas Kim chose that personality to emcee the school's spring sports awards assembly in late May. A microphone in hand, like a racket in hand, doesn't spook Granger. He was, after all, VP of his sophomore class and, before moving to the Sunshine State, won the election for junior class president. (Another GCHS student served the term, while Granger served aces for Cypress Bay).

But Florida wasn't all sun and games for snowbird-for-a-year Granger. The temperature, on a handful of days a couple of winters ago, failed to reach 50 degrees in the Miami area. Some natives complained. Others shivered for the first time. Ever. Cooler King Granger shook, too.

Because he was laughing.

"I told them, on those chilly days, 'Come on, this isn't so bad,' " Granger recalled.

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