Horvath continues to transform Clay’s tennis squad

J. Patrick Eaken

Walt Ralph has been coaching tennis at Clay for about a quarter of a century, but junior Will Horvath has single handedly made tennis cool at his high school.

Horvath, who has started as the Eagles’ No. 1 singles player since his freshman year, starting that initial season 15-5 playing against every team’s best player, and even beating St. Francis’ top guy. Horvath is 17-5 this year and placed third in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference loaded with quality players from St. John’s, which in a decade has won every league championship except one. 

Horvath is 37-14 for his career, taking into consideration there was no 2020 season. In all those years coaching tennis, Ralph says he has never coached anyone like Horvath. He immediately made an impact on the Clay lineup when he joined the tennis team two years ago.

“He’s kind of the whole package — a real good court rat,” Ralph said. “Every chance he gets out to hit, he takes advantage. He does some lessons work in the winter, but his game is an all-court game. He can play defense when he has to, but definitely has an offensive game when he’s in the right matchup.

“He is probably the best player I have coached. One of the struggles with him is he is so much better than anyone I can find around here, so that usually when a player is better than his teammates, then I find somebody that I know who plays tennis who can push him. I cannot find anyone. In fact, I have had to stop him a couple times from trying to coach his friends (teammates) in matches because there is a rule against that,” Ralph continued.

In the fall Horvath is running cross country for Clay. However, Horvath continues playing tennis in the offseason, competing in tournaments and training in the summer and winter at Shadow Valley Tennis Club, which is located adjacent to St. John’s Jesuit High School. He loves the game for the same reason many wrestlers say they love to get on the mat — it’s ‘mano vs. mano.’

“I know it kind of sounds selfish a little bit, but it is the individual aspect of it,” Horvath said. “I used to play soccer a lot when I was little, and individually you can play well, but if your team was losing you are just playing by yourself, and if you lose you cannot really say, ‘Oh, your teammates did not play so well.’ In tennis, it is all about you and that is what I really like about the sport.”

Plus, when the Eagles take on St. John’s in a dual match, or in the conference meet, his nerves do not get rattled.

“Actually, I feel like I’m pretty good friends with most of the guys over there, so when I get there, I feel like I’m more relaxed because everyone there knows me,” Horvath said. “It is kind of relaxing because it seems like a normal practice day when I’m playing with them. Even when I’m playing against them, it’s, ‘Oh, been here, done that.’ I find it more relaxing when I am playing around my friends than when I’m playing with people that I’m not friends with.”

Ralph added, “He knows them very well, so it is almost like a family reunion when we get together.”

At the TRAC No. 1 singles tournament, Horvath defeated Whitmer’s Eric Cook 6-0, 6-0, but lost to St. John’s Aidan Williams 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals. For third place, Horvath defeated Fremont Ross’ Weston Schroeder 6-0, 6-1.

Horvath is the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Fremont Division I sectional and Ralph believes he is the fourth best player in the district. Finishing in fourth or better at district will qualify him for the state tournament. Horvath will be the first to tell you that his game has gotten better under Ralph’s tutelage.

“I like to call myself mostly an all-around player. I am proud of myself that I can say that. If I picked something to be my best it would be my forehand for sure because when my forehand is on, it is pretty good,” Horvath said. 

“My backhand is not the most powerful shot, but I like my backhand because it is very consistent. I can always count on it being consistent, versus my forehand. Depending on the day, who knows what my forehand is going to be. My backhand is a fairly ‘spinny’ shot and on my serves I hit a lot of different spins.

“But my forehand I use an Eastern grip, and it’s not the ‘spinniest,’ but my backhand I use an Eastern and that gets me a lot of topspin. So, I definitely don’t incorporate a slice most times, but I use a backhand slice more than my forehand.”

As far as his footwork, that comes from staying in shape.

“One of my other coaches who coaches me in the offseason — he always will work on that. I think playing soccer contributes to that because I have pretty good footwork playing soccer, and then also he says that once I get off my cross country season how in shape I am. He says my footwork always looks great after that. Being a multi-sport athlete definitely increases my footwork and my overall ability on the court,” Horvath said.












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