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HERALD ALL-AREA BOYS TENNIS: Twice is nice

Joel Landis didn’t go undefeated this year — like he did his sophomore season — but Landis’ continued success was more than enough to secure his second straight Herald Player of the Year award. (Scott Phillips/Americus Times-Recorder)

Joel Landis didn’t go undefeated this year — like he did his sophomore season — but Landis’ continued success was more than enough to secure his second straight Herald Player of the Year award. (Scott Phillips/Americus Times-Recorder)

How about this for a dream matchup: Joel Landis of 2011 vs. Joel Landis of 2012.

Landis, an Americus-Sumter junior who is the best boys tennis player in Southwest Georgia, had the season of a lifetime in 2011.

But guess what?

He says he only got better in 2012.

“I think I would definitely beat myself from last year,” said Landis, who is The Herald’s Player of the Year in boys tennis for the second consecutive season. “Every year I have improved a whole lot. This year, it was my serve and consistency.”

In 2011, Landis went undefeated and led Americus-Sumter tennis to its first region title in more than a decade. The Panthers’ No. 1 singles player was 17-0 last year and then started this year with 11 straight wins before finally losing to the No. 1 player at Thomas County Central. He ended 2012 with a 15-2 record, led the Panthers to another Region 1-AAA title and an Elite 8 finish and did it all with the pressure of living up to his 2011 success.

“Obviously, there was pressure after a season like that,” Landis said. “I didn’t expect to go undefeated again because a perfect season like that almost never happens. I knew there was a chance if I played really well and got lucky. I wasn’t expecting to lose, but I think I did alright this season. I knew I could have won one of my matches I lost. I kind of gave it away a little bit.”

The loss Landis is referring to was the streak-snapping setback to TCC, when he fell, 6-4, 7-5, and that was followed by a disappointing 6-0, 6-2 loss to the No. 1 player at Marion County.

“It was kind of different for me to lose,” he said. “At that time, I had won 28 straight, and the next day I was like, ‘Wow, I actually lost.’ ”

Mired in disappointment and defeat after the back-to-back losses, Landis dug deep and found redemption.

“He went right back to work and started preparing for the first round of state,” Americus-Sumter coach Carl Willis said. “It was business as usual, and he came out with fire in his belly and was ready to go. He ripped off win after win after that and won in the Elite 8 handily. It was a wake-up call.”

Landis is getting plenty of early wake-up calls this summer in Lancaster, Penn., where he is working at his grandparents’ farm — just like he does every summer. He gets up at 6:30 each morning during his summer vacation to pick strawberries and run errands in the south central Pennsylvania town.

“I actually went out and picked cherries in the orchard today,” Landis said during a phone interview with The Herald early last week.

He is generous when it comes to helping out his family and equally selfless on the tennis court.

“He is one of those kids who has great work habits and motivates the other kids with his work ethic, but at the same time he is the leader and is willing to work with the younger kids,” Willis said. “He is also a good kid, the kind of person you want around your program.”


2012 Albany Herald All-Area Boys tennis team

Billy Grimsley (Sr.)/Adam Lowe (Sr.), SGA

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Runners-up for Player of the Year, went undefeated — without dropping a set — and won the GISA Class AA State Championship at No. 1 doubles for the second year in a row; didn’t play doubles together until the postseason and were each undefeated in singles during the regular season for the Region 3-AA runner-up Warriors.

Kendrick Mercer (Sr.)/Kentrell Mercer (Sr.), Americus-Sumter

WHY THEY’RE HERE: The Mercer twins, who played strictly football before picking up tennis racquets for the first time three years ago, were undefeated (30-0) as a doubles team the last two seasons and were captains for the Panthers, who advanced to the GHSA Class AAA Elite 8 the last two seasons.

Cody Carden, Jr., Baconton Charter

WHY HE’S HERE: Played No. 1 singles all season and was the undefeated, Region 1-A singles champion; finished with an overall record of 12-3 for the Blazers, who were region champions for the seventh year in a row.

David Cowan, Sr., Americus

WHY HE’S HERE: Called “Mr. Dependable” by his coach and would easily be the team’s No. 1 singles player if not for Herald Player of the Year Joel Landis; was the team’s singles captain, was 31-5 at No. 2 singles the last two seasons and was near the top of his class academically.

Robert Newsome (Jr.)/Reid Wright (So.), Deerfield

WHY THEY’RE HERE: The Knights’ No. 1 doubles team won their second straight region championship and finished 15-1 overall before suffering their only loss of the year in the GISA Class AAA state semifinals; were state champions last year and have a two-year doubles record of 25-2 together.

Pete Langstaff (Jr.)/Will Calhoun (Fr.), Deerfield

WHY THEY’RE HERE: GISA Region 3-AAA runners-up, made it to the Final Four of the state tournament and finished with a 10-1 overall record.

Will High (8th-grader)/Dylan Larkin (Jr.), Westwood

WHY THEY’RE HERE: No. 1 doubles team won the GISA Class A doubles state championship and led the Wildcats to a state runner-up finish in the team competition.

Garrett Elmore, Fr., Westwood

WHY HE’S HERE: The Wildcats’ top singles player was the GISA Region 3-A singles champion, went undefeated in the regular season and reached the semifinals of the GISA Class A state tournament.

Hema Hasona, Fr., Bainbridge

WHY HE’S HERE: Played No. 1 singles for the Bearcats, who advanced to the GHSA Class AAAA Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, and finished with a 13-5 record, including 5-1 in the region.

Kyle Ryer, Jr., Westover

WHY HE’S HERE: Played No. 1 singles for Westover, which finished third in Region 1-AAA and lost in the opening round of the state playoffs to Howard, and finished 10-3 overall with several key victories, including a three-set victory against fellow All-Area selection Trevor Shealy of Crisp County.

Nathan Bell (Fr.)/Mark Peterson (Fr.), Westover

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Played No. 1 doubles for Westover and finished 10-3 overall; picked up their biggest win of the season against Crisp County, while two of their three losses were against the fellow All-Area selection Mercer twins from Americus-Sumter.

Trevor Shealy, Sr., Crisp County

WHY HE’S HERE: The top player on a Crisp County team that finished runner-up in the region for the second year in a row; compiled a 16-3 overall record at No. 1 singles and was the only Crisp player to win his first-round playoff match against Westside, Macon.