While munching on a soft pretzel at Pint and Plow, Sam Snelgrove struggles to give an explanation for the phenomenon.
Sitting at the table across from him is Colson Schiek, who is also at a loss for words, failing to deliver a concrete reason for his and Snelgrove’s dominating performances this tennis season.
“I don’t know,” admits Schiek, slowly shaking his head.
Schiek moved to Kerrville from Wichita Falls at the beginning of his senior year, not knowing a single soul at Tivy High School. Snelgrove became his first friend in Kerrville, and later, his partner in boys doubles. Together, they have formed one of the best tennis duos in Tivy history, winning 48 out of their 49 doubles matches. On Thursday, they became the first Tivy boys duo since 1999 (Ryan Cruthirds and Domingo Villarreal) to advance to the state tournament, defeating the Dripping Springs’ boys doubles team in three sets (4-6, 6-2, 7-6).
There’s just one catch to their story: They’re not sure why they are so good. Really, they have no idea. Even their coach is a tad perplexed by what he’s currently witnessing.
“To have a record like the one they have is pretty incredible,” Tivy tennis coach Kirk Kniffen said. “Almost everyone will slip up now and then, but they just haven’t. … I don’t know how they do it. They have a different gear they go to when they get under stress. Where most people regress, they go to a higher gear.
“I don’t even know if they know how they do it,” Kniffen continued. “I think they get mad in the right way. They get that fierceness about them and say, ‘That’s enough.’ They overcome the fear and anxiety, block it out, and start kicking butt.”
Snelgrove and Schiek don’t even give the impression they are dominating athletes, athletes who, in Kniffen’s words, have kicked a lot of butt on the tennis courts this season. Both possess easy-going, polite personalties (Snelgrove used to thank all of his Kerrville Indian coaches at the end of every practice when he was 11 years old). During their interview at Pint and Plow on Friday, they were definitely happy about going to the state tournament on May 17 in College Station, but happy in a way one might be after acing a particularly challenging physics test. Both provided thoughtful answers during the 30-minute interview, punctuating every reply with “Sir.” Their answers, however, reveal a few secrets to their success.
For starters, their relaxed demeanors allow them to operate under pressure. A big part of tennis is remaining mentally sharper than your opponents, and neither Snelgrove nor Schiek have any issues in that department. With a 48-1 record, they know they are going to receive every opponent’s best effort, and that doesn’t faze them. In fact, Snelgrove often cracks jokes during matches.
“I mess around (during matches) a little bit,” said Snelgrove, flashing a smile.
“Pretty much every match,” retorted Schiek, quickly correcting his partner.
Their quick wits on the tennis court also enable them to adapt to different challenges during matches. When they fell in the first set to Dripping Springs in the Region IV championship, they figured out that they were pressing too much and corrected the mistake in the final two sets.
“We were trying for stuff that wasn’t there,” Snelgrove said. “So we had to adjust.”
They also are able to flummox opponents with two different serves. Schiek employs a kick serve, while Snelgrove uses a low flat serve, meaning their opponents have to adjust to a new serving style every other game.
“They are able to negate some of the strengths of a lot of good doubles teams,” Kniffen said. “Their styles complement each other really well. … Together, they make it hard for any good doubles team to do what they want to do. Most doubles players like to close in on the net. If you close in on the net while (Colson) winds up on the forehand, it’s going to hurt. If you close in on (Sam), he’s going to throw the lob over you and you are going to be running toward the fence.
“It’s hard to play against these guys. If you don’t know what you are up against going in, it’s going to take you a whole set to get used to the way they play. You may never.”
Snelgrove and Schiek’s partnership dawned late in the summer, when Schiek’s father, Trent Schiek, accepted the clubhouse manager position at Comanche Trace, which brought his family to Kerrville. When Kniffen discovered he was getting a new player from Wichita Falls, he called Brent Abilez, his friend who formerly coached tennis at Abilene Wylie. Since Abilene was close to Wichita Falls, Kniffen figured Abilez might have some insight on his new player.
Turns out, Abilez didn’t just know Schiek, but also coached him at Baylor Tennis camp. He had nothing but kind words to say about Schiek.
“Dude, your program just went up a level,” Abilez told Kniffen. “He’s a good kid, he’s a hard worker. I don’t know why he wants to come to Kerrville, but you hit the jack pot.”
Those weren’t empty words, either. Kniffen introduced Schiek to Snelgrove during his first practice at Tivy. The two immediately connected.
“It clicked from the beginning,” Snelgrove said.
So Kniffen kept them together as doubles partner, and they didn’t lose a single match during the team tennis season in the fall. Kniffen decided to pair them together again during the spring season.
Ever since, they have essentially been unstoppable on the tennis court, a lesson Dripping Springs learned on Thursday. The Tigers were familiar with the duo’s playing style, so they entered the match with a solid game plan, and won the first set. No worries. Snelgrove and Schiek simply adjusted their game in the second set. Schiek, who had been battling an illness earlier in the week, suffered a cramp in his calf during the tie-breaker in the third set. He collapsed to the court, needed the three-minute medical timeout to recover and powered through the set to outlast Dripping Springs in the tie-breaker, 7-5, booking their trip to College Station
Now, Schiek and Snelgrove are three matches away from winning Tivy’s first state title in boys doubles since 1985. And they aren’t too worried about the pressure.
After all, these last few months have shown that they play their best under pressure.
“I think it’s going to be good,” Snelgrove said.