Three months ago, the Powell High School boys tennis turned some heads around Wyoming when it crushed the competition at the state tournament, drubbing much larger schools to take Powell’s …
Three months ago, the Powell High School boys tennis turned some heads around Wyoming when it crushed the competition at the state tournament, drubbing much larger schools to take Powell’s first-ever tennis title.
So it came as little surprise last month when the team’s leader, PHS head coach Joe Asay, was named Wyoming’s Boys’ Tennis Coach of the Year; he’d previously been named the North Conference boys’ coach of the year.
“It’s been a good ride — a good year, a good season for these guys,” Asay said last week, saying it was fun to be a part of the Panthers’ historic accomplishment.
Powell amassed 54 points at the state tourney, well ahead of the runner-up’s 31.5 points. Part of what made the PHS title so remarkable is that there are no classes in tennis: Powell goes head-to-head with schools that are two or three times larger, like those from Casper and Cheyenne. (It was Campbell County High School in Gillette that took second.)
To drive home the magnitude of Powell’s victory, Cody High School head coach tennis coach Norm Sedig wrote a November letter to the editor of the Powell Tribune titled “Powell Panthers tennis can play with the big boys.”
“He [Asay] is really deserving for coach of the year,” Sedig said in an interview last week.
Asay took over PHS’s head coaching position in 2016, when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
“It’s been fun over the last four years,” Asay said, “certainly recognizing as we came into this season that these boys … after four years of playing great, competitive tennis, would be a force.”
The coach knew he had an athletic group, but that athleticism alone wasn’t enough against tough competition.
“You can maybe blow a kid away that doesn’t have quite the same talent, but as you get deeper into the year and into these tournaments, you know, regionals and state, you’ve got to bring something a little bit more,” Asay said. “So I think that’s where my role was — to help them recognize that success in tennis really does come with, like so many things that we do, just to get out there and practice and be kind of match-ready.”
As the fall 2019 season played out, “everything really fell into place really well,” Asay said.
As a team, the boys won every single competition, from duals to regionals to state. PHS’s singles and doubles players — Jesse Brown, Dylan Preator, Aidan Jacobsen, Justin Vanderbeek, Grant Dillivan, Ethan Bartholomew, Jay Cox and Logan Brown — won their first 14 matches at state, clinching the title on the second day of the three-day tournament.
Jesse Brown — who took fourth place at No. 1 singles — thinks the squad’s diligence in playing tennis over the summer was critical in the team’s state title run. And the PHS senior credits coach Asay for encouraging the team to practice throughout the year.
“He’s constantly texting people and asking people if they want to go out to the courts and he just wants to help,” Brown said of his coach. “That’s the main thing, because he loves it so much — he loves helping every kid.”
Brown added that Asay’s love for his team is reciprocated.
“Every player loves him; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player have a problem with him,” Brown said. “He’s just so fun to be around and he makes practice all the better because of it.”
In his own game, Brown credits Asay with improving his mental approach to tennis.
“When I first started in high school ... I’d get really worked up in games,” he said. “And so he [Asay] helped me to really calm down during matches and really just focus on my part of the game that I wanted to play.”
Asay’s own tennis career had an inauspicious beginning, as he didn’t play competitively until his senior year at Cody High School, in the fall of 1988.
“I’ve always had a no-cut program, otherwise I would have probably cut him, because he wasn’t very good,” laughed Sedig, who was just beginning his coaching career at the time.
However, Asay wound up falling in love with the game and, as Sedig put it, “just got better and better and better.”
In Asay’s current role as a coach, Sedig praised his ability to work with students, calling him “a great handler of kids.”
Beyond that, “he knows the game real well and he can help the kids with strategy and play and he’s a good teacher,” Sedig said. “He just does an outstanding job.”
(Sedig did laughingly acknowledge that it’s difficult to see a former Bronc help the Panthers take a state title, but he suggested the programs were “even-steven” since Cody’s Fillies took the championship on the girls’ side.)
Sedig was also pleased that longtime PHS assistant tennis coach Brandon Preator — whose son Dylan won his second straight title at No. 2 singles — got a chance to be part of a state championship, too.
Asay said he’s “so fortunate” to have the veteran assistant coaching alongside him.
This past season, “both Brandon Preator and I [were] just trying to help them keep the right frame of mind when out there competing and staying positive and just not letting up,” Asay said.
With September’s state tournament featuring many southern teams that PHS hadn’t seen all year, the coach said he wasn’t exactly sure where the Panthers would stack up, “but boy, they got it done.”
Asay and the other coaches of the year will be honored at the Wyoming Coaches Association’s summer awards banquet in Casper. Meanwhile, PHS officials will honor the boys’ tennis team by unfurling a new championship banner at the Panther Gym on Friday evening, between the boys and girls varsity basketball games.
“All of the accolades to the team and Coach Asay are most deserved!” said PHS Activities/Athletic Director Scott McKenzie.
While the state title is only a few months old, Asay already has the future on his mind.
“Once all this kind of comes to an end and we work through the recognition for these senior boys that were a part of it, it’ll be time to start thinking about what it’s going to look like for next spring,” said Asay. “There’s some boys with good talent ready to step up and try and fill some shoes there.”