Athlete of the Week: Cory Herbert, Roosevelt Rough Riders
Tennis comes naturally for Roosevelt's Cory Herbert on the court.
"In the summer, I try to get to a couple of tournaments if I'm feeling it. Last winter, I hit two times at Sioux Empire Fitness. I don't really do much. I enjoy playing, but during the season, the first couple weeks is pretty rough until I get my strokes back," shares Herbert.
In fact, he's never actually taken a formal tennis lesson, and has learned from his head coach Terry Grove, assistant coach Terry Jastram, and volunteer assistant coach, Mitch Barr. Herbert got involved in the game of tennis when Jastram said he should play tennis to help with his footwork because he was playing football and basketball.
Most of Roosevelt's team is unlike many area tennis teams. Coaching the Riders is unorthodox as a lot of the Riders players don't have the financial needs like the club players do, and at the same time it drives those club players crazy. Roosevelt's tennis players usually have to be tennis rats on the court, or naturally talented. Fortunately for Herbert, he has 'it.'
"Athletically, he can make up for a lot of things that most kids have to work on. He can make up for it by reading balls off his racket," says Grove.
"Everything that I have learned has been with those guys (Grove, and Jastram). Watching and teaching me how to get the ball back over. Barr has really helped me mental-wise and getting me ready," tells Herbert.
Herbert models his game after professional tennis player Gael Monfils of France, who would have played basketball if he didn't get involved in tennis. (Cory enjoys playing pick-up basketball games in his free time). Monfils won't 'wow,' you, but gets the crowd into matches and goes after every ball. Much of Monfils game relates to Cory's style of play when he is on the court.
"Getting to every ball. That's what I pride myself on. I don't have the best strokes, everybody knows I don't have the best strokes. I try to get to every ball and do what you can with a point. I never give up on any points," says Herbert.
He isn't kidding, either.
"I remember two years ago at state. We were playing in a doubles match against these two guys from Aberdeen Roncalli. They were both about 6'3", and they slammed the ball over the net. It went up over a chain linked fence about ten feet, and I jumped about half way up and stuck my racquet out and hit the ball over them. They didn't even know if the ball went over them until it bounced. The kid was like, 'nice point', and I was like, 'thanks,' laughs Herbert.
Cory's game is really unique, and to watch a player not have any formal lessons, and play off his instincts is really special.
"He's got this ability to read balls off the racket, and can be in the worst place in the world as a tennis player yet find some way to get that ball back in play. That's a strength that really, really frustrates the good tennis players. They may have better strokes than he does, but he can read it off the racket and is usually standing where they planning on hitting the shot," Grove shares.
Herbert's ability even catches Grove off guard when he's watching from the sideline.
"Usually every match that I watch him play, he does something that not only shocks his opponent, but will surprise me. How did he get to that ball?"
He's competitive, and there isn't a day that he dreads going to practice. He loves to have fun, often cracking jokes at practice, and trying to stay loose. His teammates would describe his personality as a mix of many different characteristics.
"They would probably say I'm erratically crazy sometimes. If he gets a little caffeine in his system, very annoying. I don't know. Pretty energetic. I don't ever get mad with anyone. I get more mad with myself a lot of people would say," says Herbert.
Grove tries to treat his players like adults because as seniors they are moving on into their adult lives. He says coaching Cory hasn't always been easy, but it's been exciting to see him grow.
"It's an adventure every day. The fun thing about being a coach is you see about everything. I've coached for a long time, and have coached other sports. You never want to have a situation where you have personality-less players. You want to have them be engaging and have personalities. Cory certainly has one, and it's not a bad one. It's fun. Sometimes it gets to be too much, but now it isn't as in years past, it was like, ok, that's enough."
The toughest moments have also taught Cory the greatest lessons while playing at Roosevelt. Grove has been the best coach Herbert has ever had. Cory often doesn't like to listen to anyone when he's playing, but after being up 7-3, and then falling in the first game of the consolation finals at the state tournament his sophomore year, he had to step back and listen to his coach tell him the next two years are big.
"He looked at me, and put his hand on my shoulders. We were standing outside of the Days Inn, and he said, 'Yeah, you always have a place on this team. He said if you let me work with you, good things will happen.' I like to think even if I'm not at the top, and probably will never be at the top, I'm very satisfied with how I've played. He's a good coach," explains Herbert.
Since Herbert was a freshman, Grove has seen him mature immensely as an individual and tennis player.
"He still is a goofball, but a lot less of a goofball when he was freshman. I'm pretty hard on him. To get him focused is our biggest challenge. He knows it, and when I do talk to him sternly, it is to get him focused and not be mean or anything else. He has done a really good job getting a lot more mature, and that happens when you start as a freshman and work your way to a senior."
Not only has Cory grown as a person, but as a teammate he tries to stay loose and lift them up.
"He takes his own matches very seriously, but is always encouraging the other players to not stress out. He might, but is always encouraging others to not stress out, and if they have a bad shot, he's usually there to pick them up," adds Grove.
Herbert has a quick memory, and doesn't dwell on the bad shots he takes. One year at the state tournament, a volley landed in front of Cory, and was standing on it. There were two sides to the story: Cory's opponent called it out, and being the closet person to ball, Herbert thought it was in. The fans agreed with Cory. In the end, the call didn't go in the Riders favor, and they lost the match, but Grove tells that he liked how Herbert handled the problem.
"He was vocal about it (laughs), but in that situation, I was proud of him how he handled it and even after the fact because I want them to fight for what's right, too. I told him it wasn't more of win or loss in my world. It's about what's right, and sometimes you hit the right shot, and things don't just work out, and that's life, and tennis does teach that. He handled it well, he moved on, and since then, we all remember it. But he doesn't do that to anybody else, and I know he wouldn't. When it comes down to crunch time and that same play, he is going to make the right call."
As many stories as Herbert and Grove can remember, tennis has taught Cory a lot about life's circumstances.
"I have temperamental issues, and when things kind of get down on me. I mean, if I hit a ball into the net, you are going to hear me (laughs). I will be talking to myself and you will probably hear a couple yells and screeches. Tennis has really helped me and it can clear your mind. When you step on that court, you kind of bounce around, get a little swagger, and do what you need to do. When something doesn't go your way, you can look off into sky. Don't look over at fans, but look down at your racket, touch your shoes, do what you need to do. Don't be violent with your racquet, and try to hit balls. Look at yourself, you missed the shot, and it happens. Go to the next one."
The state boys tennis tournament is May 22 to 24 in Rapid City. Roosevelt is hoping to get fifth place and finish higher than their seed. As for Herbert's future, he will graduate this weekend, and doesn't know where he will attend college. A few schools have contacted him, and he would like to go to the University of South Dakota. While in high school, Cory enjoyed math as one of his favorite classes.
*For comments or story ideas, email Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @samtastad.