Cougar of the Week: Jimmy Keogh
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Jimmy Keogh (‘17) grew up in Worcester and started playing tennis while he attended Saint Peter-Marian High School about fivemiles away from Clark University. He has finally been given an opportunity to consistently play in matches and has done well overall, most notably against Johnson & Wales during which his three set triumph ended up securing the 5-4 victory for Clark.
Scarlet: So, how has this season been compared to your first two seasons?
Keogh: I’ve actually enjoyed this season the most out of my three years on the team, mainly because being an upperclassman on the team, you’re kind of forced into a leadership role, especially when most of the team is younger guys: five freshmen and one sophomore. Even though I know I’m not one of the best players on the team, it’s definitely been one of the most enjoyable years being in that type of leadership role, and doing my best to push everybody.
Scarlet: How has your approach to practices and games changed given the change in your role on the team?
Keogh: Just lead by example. I wasn’t really able to do that in my first two seasons on the team because there were so many upperclassmen. We had like sixty to seventy percent of our team graduate last year, so it’s been a totally new experience this year, and we’ve really had to create our own identity as a team. And I think having people who will lead by example on the team helps in furthering that process.
Scarlet: How does the fact that you play this season change your preparation for matches?
Keogh: Preparing for singles matches is something I’ve been doing for awhile now. I started playing tennis in high school when I was in ninth grade. I started out as a doubles player, but by the end of my freshman year and continuing on through high school, I played strictly singles and moved my way up the ladder. It’s a little different in high school, but the preparation for me is always the same. I just make sure that I eat right, I get enough sleep, and I’m usually always feeling good going into a singles match because I know it’s all on me.
Scarlet: So you’re more used to playing singles?
Keogh: Yeah. But I’ve also played in several doubles matches this year, and we’ve had about 50-50 success this year [in doubles]. The thing about doubles is that it’s hard if you haven’t had formal instruction. It’s hard to adapt.
Scarlet: Have you had formal instruction?
Keogh: No. I haven’t really had much formal instruction at all [laughs]. The extent of me learning tennis has mostly come from me being here at college. Most of the wins I got in high school were all based on playing other sports and sort of carrying that over into learning how to play tennis. And it’s such a technical sport, and when you get to this level, you realize how technical of a sport it is, and you see these other guys who have been training their entire lives, and you realize, ‘Wow I have a lot to learn.’ This year I’ve learned a lot about doubles. In the previous years, I wasn’t good enough to break the lineup, but this year the focus is more on me and the other upperclassmen. Coming into college I really didn’t know much [about doubles]. The doubles I played in high school were sort of just your rag tag, just scrubby doubles.
Keogh: Yeah, sure. Scrubbles. And it’s definitely a whole new world when you get to college. It’s hard to be thrust into that type of competition, not knowing much about it at all, so it’s definitely been a learning process for me, but I’m excited for the summer to roll around and to come back as a new player next year.
Scarlet: You talked about how you’ve played other sports and are able to transfer that into tennis. I’ve seen you play other sports and you’re also pretty good at those. What made you stick with tennis?
Keogh: At my high school, I tried out some other sports, and I’ve loved sports my entire life. I stopped playing baseball after little league, and I was looking for something to fill my time during the spring. My dad had played a little bit of tennis, we’d hit around a couple times. And I thought maybe this would be a good idea to try it out, and I fell in love with it. At the other sports I played at that school, I felt like I didn’t have a big enough role on the team. And I get into tennis, and I’m immediately one of the best players on the team just based on athletic ability, and then I was like, ‘Wow, I could get really good at this. I have a lot of potential in this sport.’ And that’s what made me stick with it.
Scarlet: Are there any other aspects of tennis that made you fall in love with it?
Keogh: Definitely the idea of just being by yourself and not having to rely on anyone else. That was always something that frustrated me with team sports: even if I was working as hard as I possibly could, and doing all the right things, ultimately, sometimes the wins and the losses come down to what other people are doing. So then I get to tennis, and all of that goes out the window, and about what I do to practice, and that was one of the selling points for tennis for me. Even in doubles it’s just one other person, and you have some sway over what that person does too.
Scarlet: So you talked briefly about how you’re finally getting opportunities to play now. Does that make it tougher when you’re not playing in matches now?
Keogh: Yeah. Yeah, definitely [laughs]. It definitely does. But it’s part of being a leader too, just taking that in stride. If you don’t see the court, it’s for a good reason. It’s never just an arbitrary reason, it’s all about the matchups. It definitely makes it harder seeing the court one week, and then not seeing the court another week, but I think it’s all part of being a good teammate and just knowing your role.
Scarlet: I’ve heard from players that the team chemistry is especially good this year. What’s your take on that?
Keogh: It’s good. It’s funny to have a team that is mostly freshmen, because it’s their first time going through this process, and everything’s a new experience to them, so they’re just very open-minded and willing to try new things, and they all want to win. As far as team chemistry, we all share a lot of laughs, we all get along well, and we all like our coach, and honestly it’s good to know that we’re all after the same thing, and clearly everybody there is out to compete and get a win.
Scarlet: I also get the vibe that having former player Joel [Simonson (‘15)] as an assistant coach and Fernando [Pinoargote (‘16)] as captain has been helpful.
Keogh: Yeah. It’s also helpful to have more than one Spanish speaking player on the team. I’m learning more Spanish just by listening to them, but also If you only have one, it can be harder for them to connect with teammates. We have a lot of diversity. We have a kid who’s Czech, Romanian, Ecuadorian, Russian, Columbian…It’s interesting to have all these kids from these different cultures, and I’ve learned a lot about these countries that I probably would have never known. It’s cool. It’s a cool to have this team atmosphere and I’m excited to see who joins next year. We’ve never had this much diversity in my time on the team at Clark.
Scarlet: I know some of the players get big into the team wide mini golf tournament during spring break, and that Ian Levy (‘19) won it this year. Are you one of the members of the team who cares?
Keogh: Oh, I care. I was there, Scotty. I was solid the entire way, and I blew up on one hole. The hole had like two speed bumps, and I tapped my ball, and it rocketed out of bounds. So I ended up getting a stroke penalty, and got a five on that hole. I was pretty much on par for the rest of them, and I came up one stroke short of Ian, so it was particularly damaging to me. And Coach was talking so much smack beforehand, and then he just sucked. He blew up on like three holes, and he knew it too. No, the mini golf is competitive. It’s always competitive because Coach talks so much smack, and I don’t think he’s won in like three years.
Scarlet: Having that chemistry must make it easier to deal with not playing some weeks.
Keogh: Yeah. I always want to play, but the bottom line is that we’re all teammates. We’re all pursuing the same goals, winning NEWMACs. And no matter who’s on the court, we’re all pursuing the same thing, which is a win for Clark. And I don’t think it makes it harder to cheer them on because I like those guys. If I didn’t like them it would make it harder to cheer them on, but it’s easy just because we’re all on the same team. Depending on what happens over the summer, I will look to practice more. The past two offseasons, I’ve been sick on and off, I’ve been injured, working all the time. So I think that this summer is instrumental for me in improving my game, and coming back not having to fight for the single spots in the back of the lineup anymore.
Scarlet: What are you going to focus on improving this offseason?
Keogh: Definitely my serve needs to get better. I’m pretty tall, so I should have a bigger and a more consistent serve, and that just all falls back on formal training, so it’s definitely one area to be improved upon. Also my net game. If you’re bigger, you have more of an advantage, you can make a nice approach shot and then get to the net. If you can get to the net, you can finish the point usually, but sometimes my volleys are crap. Those two are probably the two biggest aspects of my game that need improvement. And those will probably be the ones that I focus on most during the offseason. I have the speed, I have the agility, and I have the reflexes, but the technicalities…oh, footwork is another one. Footwork is huge.Those three are what I need to focus on the most.
Scarlet: It must be easier to impose your athleticism when you start the point with a good serve.
Keogh: Exactly, if you can hit a hard serve in a good location it changes everything, the whole dynamic of the point. They’re immediately off-balance, and you can come in to net to finish the point. It’s that easy. So that should be what I do based on my build, and that’s typically what tall players do. And based on the quality of all my strokes, my game should be to stick to my forehand, hitting inside out forehands, some slice, but mainly serving and volleying. So those two things need sharpening over the summer, but I’m willing to put the work in and I can’t wait.
Thanks for the interview, Jimmy!