By John Manning and Georgia Alley
Photos by Emily Pascua
Even with two of its leading players injured, the Juan Diego Catholic High School boys tennis team battled until the end, but fell just short (two points) of a third consecutive 3A state championship.
The team completed its season at the state championship May 9 with two individual titles, as junior Ryan Kempin won No. 1 singles and Ben Agrelius captured the No. 3 singles championship, as the team placed second overall.
After holding Region 10 and state championships the last two years, the boys had worked towards a three-peat title, according to head coach Arthur Miyazaki.
Ben Agrelius, a sophomore and Kempin, a junior, were among the players who played through injuries and achieved success this season. Agrelius tore his triangular fibrocartilage just a few weeks before the season started due to overuse. This piece of cartilage helps to support rotation in the wrist.
After undergoing surgery, Agrelius is in recovery but still maintained his singles spot. He did not play his first match of the season, but recovered enough for that first place result in third singles at state.
Kempin had knee problems early this season due to fast growth. Despite this, he won all matches he played this season and won that No. 1 singles state title.
The team lost only one match prior to state, against Park City. At state, it was Snow Canyon that managed to best the Soaring Eagle. After coaching at Juan Diego for 16 years, Miyazaki knows where the challenge comes from in the 3A classification.
“Our biggest competition is to the south,” Miyazaki said. “St. George, because of their climate, get to play year-round. We lose three to four months because of the weather, consequently.”
The team’s No. 2 singles player is sophomore Connor Kempin, who joins the line of Kempin brothers to play tennis at Juan Diego, replacing older brother Brendon as Ryan’s teammate. Connor Kempin finished second in No. 2 singles at the state championships.
Top-seeded doubles team, juniors Rex Alley and Lucas Castro, won two of their state matches but lost in the semifinals. It was Alley who played singles, filling in for Agrelius while he was recovering.
Agrelius says playing on a high school team has its advantages and disadvantages, but the level of play in Class 3A generally could use an upgrade.
“I really enjoy the teamwork that comes with playing on a high school team,” Agrelius said. “They always have your back, and you can rely on the team for support. I would like to see more of a challenge—maybe even if that means playing 4A schools.”
Size and strength may help drive success on the tennis court, but Miyazaki works his players hard on technique, as he believes perfecting those skills can overcome a lot on match day.
“I believe that tennis is technique-driven,” Miyazaki said. “It’s the one sport where, if you have a 6-foot-6 player playing someone who’s 5-6, that 5-6 person can still beat him if he has better technique, even though he may not physically be stronger, which is a difference from some of the other sports.”
Miyazaki says tennis is a lifetime sport anyone can learn. However, when players show the potential to play on his varsity court during practice, he expects hard work. Another thing Miyazaki loves about tennis is how players can play no matter what age they are.
“Our assistant coach, Pete [Talboys], is in his 70s and can still play,” Miyazaki said.
Miyazaki says he did not start playing tennis until he was in college, but because athletes can play at any age, he has gained valuable experience.
For Miyazaki, coaching is more than just teaching technique. Though he lives in San Diego, he comes to Utah to coach tennis at Juan Diego every fall and spring.
“Everyone needs to do something, and everyone needs to volunteer,” Miyazaki said. “And even at my age, you still want to give back. So I give back to my sport.”
The team has a history of four state championships, six runner-up finishes, and 10 region championships since the school opened. Miyazaki is working with Juan Diego athletic director Chris Long to raise more awareness for the tennis program and its achievements and encourage more participation.
“We are one of the more successful programs here at Juan Diego,” Miyazaki said. “Granted, we are one of the smaller programs that cheerleaders don’t come to, that crowds don’t come to, but we are one of the more successful programs.”