While watching Becker O’Shaughnessey on the tennis court, there are a number of things that are instantly obvious.
The first thing might be his 6-foot-2, 180-pound athletic frame. Or maybe it’s his explosive serve, which has reached speeds as high as 120 mph. It all adds up to the realization that O’Shaughnessey is a dynamic tennis player. And that’s before realizing he’s only entering his junior season.
O’Shaughnessey, a standout at Stratford, has dominated GISA tennis recently by winning the Class AAA individual title for the past three years. And yes that means he won his first state title as an eighth-grader. After another strong season, O’Shaughnessey has been named The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“It was kind of surprising,” O’Shaughnessey said. “I didn’t know I was going to do that well. Winning the state title the past three years puts a little pressure on me, but I just have to go back and defend it.”
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So far, O’Shaughnessey has had no trouble defending his position as the most dominant player in Macon since his arrival at Stratford. This year alone, he won the AAA title and the Region 2-AAA title and led Stratford to AAA team title. He finished the season with an undefeated record of 15-0 and lost only 13 games in six regular-season matches. In the individual state tournament, he went 4-0 and only lost five games.
“A lot of players play varsity as eighth-graders, but very few of them are ever No. 1 players,” Stratford head coach Jaime Kaplan said. “I’ve watched him play for several years. As a tennis pro, you can recognize great players at a young age. They have a certain work ethic, balance and effort. Watching Becker, you knew he was going to be a great player.”
O’Shaughnessey’s development as a tennis star seems to coincide directly with Stratford’s success. The school’s tennis program has become a force to be reckoned with in the GISA, as both the boys and girls programs have won state titles. But prior to 2008, Stratford was far from a tennis powerhouse.
“They hadn’t been good for the previous 10 years or so,” O’Shaughnessey said. “Nobody really played tennis until Craig Jones moved into town.”
Jones, a Macon native and former tennis pro, had been running a tennis academy at Coosa Country Club in Rome for 23 years. But about five years ago, Idle Hour Club in Macon decided it wanted to start a youth tennis program. Jones was recruited, he accepted the offer, and he made a return back to his hometown. Although there weren’t very many serious youth tennis players at the time, Jones tried to develop the youngsters and eventually build an academy-like atmosphere for those that decided to take the sport seriously.
A number of the children stuck with the sport, and many of the teammates on Stratford’s team today became good friends while playing together in Jones’ program. One of those children who showed the most promise was O’Shaughnessey, who entered the program when he was about 11 years old.
“He was a beginner when we started,” Jones said. “He could hit the ball, but I don’t know if he had ever even played a tournament when I got there. Still, he was such a good athlete; I knew that if he developed he would become really special. He gradually just kept growing into a great player.”
Five years later, O’Shaughnessey has developed into a tennis all-star that has consistently been ranked as one of the top Southern players in his age group. Considering his young age, his coaches still believe he has even more room to grow.
“I believe he’s got enough talent to be a pro tennis player,” Jones said. “He’s the real deal. If he wants to really work hard, you’re going to hear about this guy. He’s that kind of athlete. The ability and talent are there.”
“I think he can (be a professional),” Kaplan added. “I really do. He will play at a high-level Division I school where he’ll be playing with guys that are better than him, and he’ll get such a high level of tennis every day. When I went off to college, I improved a lot. I see him in that upward climb as he goes off to college, and I really see him on that next level.”
As far as O’Shaughnessey is concerned, however, he’s just enjoying his time at Stratford.
“It’s a fun atmosphere,” he said. “They got a new facility that’s really nice, and it’s fun just being with all my teammates.”
And what about being selected as the boys tennis representative for the All-Middle Georgia team?
“I’m honored,” O’Shaughnessey said. “It’s really nice. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.”