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updated: 5/15/2014 7:26 PM

After tough choice between sports, Marmion's Graft loving tennis

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John Graft misses track and field. For the spring of his senior year, though, he really didn't want to miss tennis.

Had Graft continued his progression from cross country, which he ran all four years at Marmion, and returned to track as in his junior year, he could have joined such Cadets as Brady Bobbitt, Eric Lifka, Ethan Young, Paul Bancroft, brothers Andrew and Kevin Grahovec and perhaps even youngsters Quinn Gratz and Andrew Burroughs to provide Marmion with a really crack distance squad.

After all, according to Daily Herald records in 2013 Graft led the county in the 3,200-meter run at 9 minutes, 37.9 seconds, and he was among the best in the 1,600 at 4:27.1. Last fall he placed 13th at the Waubonsie Valley cross country sectional, qualifying for the state meet with Bobbitt.

Graft said "30 seconds" after the sectional meet one of his feet started hurting, a stress fracture which denied him a run in Peoria.

Unfortunately for Marmion track coach Dan Thorpe -- but to the benefit of Cadets tennis coach John Tsang -- Graft chose tennis to close out his varsity career before he advances to study electrical engineering at prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Graft said both Tsang, naturally, and Thorpe ("really gracious") were on his side when he made his decision in late February, when indoor track really kicks in.

"They were both really supportive of it the whole time. I know a lot of kids feel pressure from coaches," said Graft, who Tsang said enters Saturday's Suburban Christian Conference tennis meet at St. Francis at No. 2 singles with a 10-2 singles record. (Marmion has won the last five conference tournaments.) Graft's two losses came at an invite at Lockport, one to Marmion's No. 1 singles player John King.

"I think playing multiple sports has been beneficial to me and I had a lot of fun doing it last year," he said. "This year, the reason I wanted to play tennis was I knew I wanted to play singles this year. Last year, I wanted to play doubles."

And doubles he did, helping Marmion go undefeated in dual meets a second straight year. He paired with senior Jackson Rettig to win the SCC title at No. 1 doubles and qualify for state, where the duo went 3-2 and finished 25-4 on the season -- while Graft also ran track.

"It wasn't easy and we had to make adjustments based on schedules, and we made it work," said Tsang, in his fourth year coaching Marmion but his 11th with sister school Rosary.

Graft qualified for the state tournament in singles as a sophomore, and that's where he set his sights.

"Singles is just a much more physically demanding element to tennis, and I just wanted to focus on playing singles this year," he said. "It's more a requirement focusing on singles than on doubles. I really wanted to take my season as far as I could go. I love to run, too, and considered playing both sports, but at the end of the day it came down to which sport was more fun for me."

Tsang called Graft a quick, "all-court player"; Graft said his strengths are endurance and mental toughness he developed through running.

"He's one of those players who you're going to really have to work hard if you want to have an advantage on him, because he's going to get to every ball," Tsang said.

Graft also was a competitive swimmer until his sophomore year, with a couple triathlons under his belt. This spring, however, he's pleased to focus on one discipline.

"I do miss running," Graft said. "I do miss the competition because I love to compete. Tennis provides me with that. Tennis is more of a boxing match between my opponent and myself -- but running provides many benefits."

Crosstown clash

At least until the playoffs it doesn't get any bigger than this for St. Charles lacrosse.

Three separate events fill the bill this weekend, highlighted by Friday's Crosstown Classic between St. Charles East and St. Charles North, who make a rare appearance on a high school field as the marquee match of Friday's triple-header at St. Charles East's Norris Stadium.

"It's kind of a lacrosse weekend, really," said Mitch Cohen, president of the St. Charles Lacrosse Club.

On Saturday there's a return of the freshman-sophomore "Rock the Fox" tournament, starting at 8 a.m. on two fields at Wredling Middle School. Ten squads come in, including sides from Geneva, South Elgin and, of course, the two St. Charles high schools.

Another youth-oriented confab, the fourth annual May Classic, hits the East Side Sports Complex on Friday and Saturday. Club teams from Illinois and Wisconsin, age-group players from the under-9 to under-15 crowd, will be out there all day.

Four our purposes here the centerpiece is the Crosstown Classic -- which is not just one classic, but a handful. At 4 p.m. Friday the junior varsity squads from St. Charles North and East will play at Norris Stadium, followed at 5:30 by the unified St. Charles girls team against St. Francis and the boys varsity game between East and North at 7:30 p.m.

Those last two matches will be broadcast live on High School Cube then placed into heavy rotation on Comcast from noon Saturday through Tuesday night.

(It's important to note that the St. Charles Lacrosse "LAX Gives Back" effort is collecting nonperishable food items and toiletries which the Salvation Army will distribute to appropriate parties.)

All involved in the Classic -- which is also senior recognition day -- wished to thank St. Charles East athletic director Mike Sommerfeld for the use of Norris Stadium. Due to the crush for field space during the busiest season on the high school calendar and lacrosse not yet sanctioned by the Illinois High School Association, this opportunity doesn't often come around. The teams typically play home games at the East Side Sports Complex down the road from East.

"It's the first time it's happened in the last three years," said St. Charles East coach Chris Conner. "It's a big deal for everyone to play at the stadium."


"I think it's just because it finally makes us feel that we're a part of the school," he said.

Also over the last three years the boys teams have become separate entities since their days as a unified club. St. Charles North is 2-0 in the Classic.

"The first two years we were very young so we were kind of overmatched by North," Conner said. "But this is the first year we're pretty equal with them, and the first time we have a chance to win the game. So this will be big for us."

Headed by seniors Nate Campana, Tim Canning, Brett Hickey and Brandon Huff, the Saints actually own the higher ranking by the Illinois High School Lacrosse Association, No. 19 to St. Charles North's No. 23. St. Charles East entered Thursday's game against Naperville North at 9-4.

St. Charles North coach Sean McCaffrey acknowledged that this will be a "well-matched" contest with the Saints. At 8-6, the North Stars bring in top scorers Jud Huxtable and Zach Behrens along with key players Cam McKenzie, Joey Davis, Austin Cohen, Carter O'Brien and Eric Koppang.

"East is very hungry to end their losing streak in the Cross Town matchup," McCaffrey noted. "We do not plan on letting that happen, though."

Them's hopefully not fighting words. But hey, it is a contact sport. It's fitting that this is the last regular-season game for both squads.

"I think there's a lot of respect between both teams but there's a lot of aggression because both teams obviously want to win," Conner said. "It's the biggest game of the year for everybody."

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