By Dana Delgado
This year, Graham Vaandrager will be carrying the torch for the Liberty Hill High School varsity tennis team.
As Coach Robert Headrick’s No. 1 player, the junior single’s player says he is ready to win so he can go to the state tournament in April at Texas A & M.
“It killed me not play last year at the regional tournament as the third-place alternate,” said Vaandrager, who struggled getting past two players, one from Burnet and the other from Brownwood. “It broke my heart to just sit there and watch.”
Not this year.
“It’s going to be good year,” he said. “Coach Headrick’s training program is helping me with my conditioning and this year, I just need to play my game.”
Vaandrager’s plan is to play a finesse game versus a power game.
“I need to stay calm and outsmart my opponent,” he said. “Tennis is nothing more than a mind game. I used to get frustrated, but not anymore. I’ve matured. I’ve learned that pressure is the name of the game in life. It makes me want to compete harder.”
The junior credits Head Basketball Coach Barry Boren for helping him strengthen his character. The state tennis contender has been at Coach Boren’s side as the basketball team’s manager.
“Coach Boren taught me to be a man and showed me how to handle things and be more outgoing,” Vaandrager said.
Coach Boren remembers exactly when he first met Vaandrager at a junior high tennis practice.
“I was taken because of his tennis ability,” recalls Boren. “What I noticed immediately about Graham was just how nice he was. He was just a good person who treated everyone well.”
When Vaandrager moved on to high school, he and Coach Boren bonded. He wanted to learn to play basketball and Boren was the coach. Despite making an honest effort, Vaandrager realized he was best suited for tennis, but accepted Coach Boren’s invitation to be the team’s manager.
“Graham has become an integral part of our program,” Boren said. “He knows the daily operation of our basketball machine and is so dutiful and loyal. He knows what needs to be done, sees it, and does it.”
Over time, the two have grown even closer.
“I have said to Graham many times that I didn’t know what I had done to deserve his loyalty, but it is something I truly cherish,” Boren added. “He says that through our association he has really taken in the same lessons as the other boys. That means work hard, work smart, work together, be positive, never quit.”
Coach Boren says he has mixed feelings about having only one more year to work with Vaandrager.
“I will be sad to see him graduate next year,” Boren said. “However, I know that Graham is going to go on to bigger, greater endeavors. I will miss him in the short term, but I know that neither of us will forget the other. In fact, every time we see one another down the road, it will be a celebration and a hearty reunion.”
On Friday, Feb 14, the LHHS varsity team opens its season at the Waco Robinson tournament and Vaandrager couldn’t be more excited.
“This is a real big tournament with over 20 schools competing,” he said. “It should be fun and I’m looking to win.”
Vaandrager, whose grandparents are from the Netherlands and who still speaks a little Dutch, said he has never trained harder going into a new season. During summer, he practiced at least eight hours every day. In his spare time, he found time to read, build computers because of his interest in engineering and go fishing.
His preparation, however, has been long in coming. He said he has held a tennis racket since he was born and with good reason. Vaandrager comes from tennis royalty. His father, Bastiaan Vaandrager, was a world class tennis player who once held his own against Grand Slam Champion Jimmy Connors. Further, his older brother, Lane, was a state tennis qualifier from LHHS in 2008 and is now assistant at the Wilco (Williamson County) Tennis Center in Georgetown.
“My dad who is now living the life as a fishing guide at Lake Buchanan still whips my butt,” he said. “He still teaches me and my brother. The advice he always gives is to get your first serve, hit your crosscourt and rush the net.”
Vaandrager, however, is grateful to his mother, Tracey, for all the support and sacrifices she has made to get him to all his practices, which have led to a long list of achievements.
He was the seventh and eighth grade District Champion and placed fourth in district as a freshman. In a Florida Tournament, Vaandrager placed second on slippery clay courts going toe-to-toe with the Sunshine State’s third best player before defeating him in the semi-finals.
A year ago, he was a regional qualifier as an alternate. This year could be his breakout year on the state’s stage, but no matter the results, he’s already a champion in the hearts of many.