Sam Sweeney undoubtedly was the best player on the Prairie Ridge boys tennis team this season.
Fortunately for the Wolves’ Fox Valley Conference opponents, Sweeney was the coach.
Sweeney began his first year of coaching while finishing his senior season as a player at North Central College in Naperville. He led Prairie Ridge to a Cary-Grove Sectional team championship, and the Wolves qualified both of their doubles teams for the IHSA State Tournament.
For these accomplishments, Sweeney is the Northwest Herald Boys Tennis Coach of the Year as selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
Sweeney said seeing the game from outside the court was a new experience for him.
This was exemplified at sectionals where he nervously monitored two close matches. Sweeney turned to a group of parents and told them, “I never knew what you went through before.”
“It was interesting seeing the game from a different perspective,” Sweeney said. “You don’t realize how nerve-wracking it is and how much you want your kids to win.”
At 23, Sweeney is not far removed from his playing days at Prairie Ridge. He credited his team for not making that an issue and for showing him respect as a coach.
“I loved it and was fortunate enough to have a good group of guys,” Sweeney said. “The kids made it easy for me. I’m looking forward to the future.”
Connor Greenwald said he was excited when he heard that Sweeney was going to be his new coach. Greenwald played No. 1 singles for most of the season and qualified for state in doubles with Jack Hogan.
“[Sweeney] knows what he’s talking about,” Greenwald said. “He’s a younger guy, so he relates well to us. He made the whole tennis team a heck of a lot better.”
Having a dominant player as a coach, Greenwald said it was a little different and humbling at times. The overall impact though was positive.
“It’s fun at times and hard at times. We would play [after practice] and he would just destroy me,” Greenwald said. “It only made me better.”
Johnsburg coach Rick Bailey said the Wolves’ first-year coach brought the intensity Sweeney had as a player and applied it to his coaching.
“I was very impressed at his focus and understanding of how to put his team in the best chance to win by how he set his line-up,” Bailey said.
Being both a player and a coach during the season helped Sweeney relate to his players and had a positive impact on his own game.
He said the experience made him a better player and hopefully a better coach.
“It’s weird because you go from a situation from being coached to where you’re the coach. I’m telling [my] guys not to feel nervous but I’m nervous in my own match,” Sweeney said. “I think there are things that you say to your kids that reiterate those thoughts in your mind. I just told my kids this why don’t I apply it to my own game?”