Gavin Jensen had a special message for Sara Kipping on Tuesday afternoon.
Jensen, a sophomore tennis player at Sauk Valley Community College, walked up to his coach, Kipping, and announced he had hurt his shoulder and was going to have to hang it up for the season. With only six players on the team and six needed to play matches, it was a major blow.
Kipping was crestfallen for a few seconds before she realized she was merely the victim of some April Fool's Day tomfoolery.
"He got me pretty good," Kipping said.
Jensen is the Skyhawks' No. 1 singles player, and teams with Tanner Dir to fill the No. 1 doubles slot. He took an unlikely road to get there.
A 2012 Newman High School graduate, Jensen's main sport was football, but he also competed in 3 years of baseball, 2 years of swimming and 1 year of basketball. As a senior, he decided to give tennis a try.
Jensen's parents, Tom and Michelle, are both avid tennis players. At Tom's urging, Gavin participated in the cardio tennis program at Westwood, in which fitness and skill development take precedent over competition.
It was there Gavin learned the basics of the game, among some players old enough to be his grandparents.
"I got my butt whooped by some older people," Jensen said, "so that really pushed me to strive to become better."
Jensen decided to go out for the team as a senior at Newman. He made the team, and played mostly JV matches, with a handful of varsity contests thrown in.
After graduating from Newman in 2012, he decided to attend Sauk Valley, and contacted Kipping about joining the team. He ended up playing No. 4 singles for the Skyhawks last spring, and No. 2 doubles with Granit Tefiku.
He won just a handful of matches, but gained valuable experience along the way.
"It wasn't only physically challenging, but it was mentally challenging," Jensen said. "People had been playing since they were 7, 8, 9 years old, and they knew the game a lot better than I did."
Jensen played regularly at Kilgour Park or at SVCC last summer and fall, then at Westwood this past winter to prepare for the season. He emerged as the Skyhawks' No. 1 player.
"He's got a great serve right now," Kipping said. "He's got great topspin. He can place the ball. He's just been really working hard on his overall game."
Jensen is still searching for his first win of the spring season, having lost matches against Prairie State and Moraine Valley. Kipping noted those are two of the best teams the Skyhawks see all season.
"I think he's seen the very best of the best that will be in our tournament," Kipping said. "He's got that under his belt, so now he can get the confidence to get his first win on Thursday against DuPage."
In the fall, Jensen plans to attend Wisconsin-Platteville and major in public relations. There is no tennis team there to try out for, but Jensen still plans to play as much as possible. A Sauk Valley women's tennis player, Molly Hendricks, will also attend UW-Platteville, and they plan to play when they can.
"This has been my addiction, to say the least," Jensen said. "I haven't picked up a football in a long time, and I wanted a sport I could play after high school. I just love tennis."
High school: Newman, class of 2012
College: Sauk Valley
FYI: Played 5 sports (football, baseball, swimming, basketball and tennis) at Newman. ... Didn't play tennis until spring of senior year, but now is No. 1 player at SVCC