PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Wukasch finds solace on the tennis court
By Scott Akanewich
Ethan Wukasch used to find his athletic joy on a basketball court.
But, one day, older sister McKenzie introduced him to a new sport on a different kind of court.
“I like how competitive tennis is because I’m a really competitive person,” said Wukasch, a sophomore who is only playing his second season of competitive tennis. “Even though there’s more running.”
However, even that part of his athletic ability is geared toward covering ground on the court, he said.
“I’ve always had good endurance, so I can do a lot of running and not get too tired,” said Wukasch. “So, I like to play on the baseline – it’s where I think I’m best suited.”
Still being a relative neophyte to the game means he’s been on a steep learning curve, one that he is still riding like a wave.
“When I first started playing tennis, the forehand was the only shot I could do,” he said. “You can slice the ball, have not as much spin or hit it more flat. But, I just try to put top spin on it.”
Wukasch isn’t the biggest or strongest player on the court, but that’s the thing with tennis.
Players who are more powerful aren’t always successful, like a golfer who can hit it 350 yards off the tee, but whose short game suffers.
No problem for Wukasch, he said.
“I don’t hit the ball as hard as some guys,” said Wukasch. “So, I have to practice my form to make sure it’s good. After all, it doesn’t do any good to hit the ball hard if it’s out.”
According to Panthers head Coach Philip Dodd, Wukasch’s work ethic is what separates him from his teammates.
“Ethan started out on JV last year as a freshmen and didn’t beat many of the players on team, but he continued to work hard and he has improved most of any player on the team this year,” said Dodd. “He listens to the coaches and never complains.”
Dodd also attributed Wukasch’s rapid rise in the ranks to his commitment level.
“Ethan is an athlete, so anytime you get an athlete committed to a sport you’ll see rapid improvement as in his case,” he said. “He will continue to improve and will be our top player for several years to come. He wins, period and when he’s on the court no matter who he’s playing, he does whatever it takes to win.”
Wukasch also plays doubles, which is an entirely different ball of wax, he said.
“Sometimes it’s difficult at the beginning to play with someone you haven’t played with,” said Wukasch. “You have to be able to adapt to their playing style, so practicing helps a lot.”
Not only has his desire to improve helped his own game, but also when he has a partner on the court.
“His serve was definitely his weakness last year, but he has come back after the summer with it much improved,” said Dodd. “His net game is one of the best on the team and playing with senior Tyler Franklin, who made the regional quarterfinals last year in doubles, they’re undefeated at the No. 2 spot.”
According to Wukasch, the culture of tennis is also something he enjoys compared to that of other sports.
“Tennis is definitely different,” he said. “For example, it’s not as fast-paced as a basketball game, we have breaks and you have to want to win as an individual.”
Sisterly influence also affects Wukasch’s weapon he goes to war with on the court.
“Actually, my sister won the racket I use at a tennis dinner,” he said. “She already had one, so she gave it to me and I’ve used it ever since. I don’t know much about rackets, but this one is pretty balanced and works well for me.”
When he was younger before he ever even picked up a racket, he never envisioned tennis would be the sport for him as he grew older, he said.
“I never really thought I’d play tennis,” said Wukasch. “For me, it was a sport only people in other countries played.”
But, that all changed soon thereafter.
“I went to my first tennis camp in eighth grade,” he said. “After that, I began to watch it more.”
Ever since, Wukasch has worked hard to hone his skills and the results have already begun to come to fruition, he said.
“I think I’ve improved a lot,” said Wukasch. “At first, I had no backhand at all, but now I do and I have pretty strong ground strokes. Over the summer, I took lessons to improve my serve. I know I’m not as good now as I can and will be.”
So, what’s it like when after all the work on the practice courts, he’s able to hit that perfect passing shot just beyond the lunge of an opponent?
“It’s kind of like dunking on someone in basketball,” said Wukasch. “It makes me really proud of myself. Whenever I hit one, I know it’s all paying off.”
All that being said, tennis isn’t the only thing he’s looking to better himself at.
“Engineering has always been interesting to me,” said Wukasch. “I’ve always been good at math and science.”
For now, though, Wukasch is focused on reducing his game to a science.
In the meantime, one thing he needs to focus on before he takes the court is to make sure the dampener is properly in place, a device that reduces the vibration from the strings when a shot is hit, he said.
“I’m not sure how much it really helps,” said Wukasch. “But, It’s just one of those things.”
Everything else aside, Wukasch is definitely an asset to Panthers tennis, said Dodd.
“Ethan is a very quiet and humble young man,” he said. “His parents are super supportive as they were with his sister Mckenzie, who graduated last year and is going to nursing school. He’s an outstanding student and a great teammate to have.”