By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — So Max Gillett and Russell Gehring were in DECA class together. It’s a sort of marketing, business and entrepreneurship class. You know, building tomorrow’s leaders.
Gillett, seeing that Gehring was wearing a “tennis” shirt, decided he’d take the lead.
“I said, ‘Hey, I bet I could beat you in tennis,’” Gillett explained Wednesday, in the middle of state tourney net practice.
What Gillett, who’s headed to William and Mary to play football, a slot tight end, he’s been told, didn’t know about Gehring was that, only last year, playing for Okmulgee, the first-year Tiger had finished second in the Class 4A No. 1 singles draw.
What Gehring didn’t know about Gillett was that he knew anything about tennis, but, “Tennis was my main sport growing up,” Gillett said.
Gehring won, barely, 7-6.
With that, Gillett had an entirely new appreciation for the new kid on the block. Also, Gehring came to understand that, holy cow, the almost 250-pound lineman football player knew his way around a tennis court.
“That’s exactly how it went,” Gehring said.
It’s a great story, made all the better because today begins Gillett’s and Gehring’s run at the Class 6A state tennis tournament at Will Rogers Tennis Center in Oklahoma City.
Playing in a double-tough regional at Bixby on Tuesday, the tandem, according to coach Kelly Stout, “ …they opened my eyes.”
“They had Jenks cracking their racquets on the ground. (The Jenks) coach had them doing push-ups, as they were throwing their racquets. It was a great match. It was fun to watch.”
Jenks won the match, but the Tigers had made their point. Also, Stout sees the Trojan team is a likely No. 3 seed and he sees Gillett and Gehring as right there with them. Indeed, though it may not be probable, he thinks his team has “a shot to actually win it.”
“They’re improving,” Stout said, “practically each day.”
Gehring’s still the more accomplished player and, even Gillett admits, when they play singles now, Gehring tends to win 6-2 or 6-3. But they’ve become fast and best friends and, having just become doubles partner in the last few weeks, they can feel how much better they’re getting together.
“If we come out, if we can get a pretty good roll going, we don’t lose many games,” Gillett said. “If we can just get on a roll, I think we can win it all.”
Recently, the duo received a few pointers from former Sooner coaches Paul Lockwood and Mark Johnson. That opened their eyes to increased on-court communication and a little more thoughtfulness about strategy.
They’ve always been well suited as partners.
“(Max) would have placed in two singles. He is no slouch up there by any means. His net play, he kind of makes a difference,” Stout said. “Russ is good at the net, but Max is intimidating. So you have Russ behind him, setting him up, and Max picking them off.”
Gehring likes their chances.
“I think if we just stay focused and just play our tennis and don’t get involved in all the mind games tennis can play on you and just play every point as a new point … I think our best tennis is ahead of us.”
They have anywhere from two to five matches today and Saturday to prove it.
Follow me @clayhorning
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