He’s been climbing up the ranks as a junior player in the state, but facing players three and, sometimes, four years older than him would be a different challenge.
Heller gladly accepted it.
Stepping onto the court behind two seniors to play No. 3 singles, the freshman was often the decisive point for Etowah. He finished with a perfect 12-0 record, with his wins deciding the match on six occasions, as the Eagles returned to the Class AAAAAA state playoffs after missing out in 2013.
“It wasn’t like he was out there just playing around,” Etowah coach Don Hurlburt said. “He had some pressure on him.”
For elevating his game and the play of those around him, Heller is the 2014 Cherokee Tribune Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
Hurlburt feels Heller is deserving of the honor.
“He might not have played the same competition as some of the other guys day in day out, but he took care of his business,” Hurlburt said. “He won the matches he played. If he had gone out there and fumbled around, it would be different, but he won a lot of sets 6-1, 6-0, 6-2.”
Heller believes he was able to learn from the seniors — Kevin Mendes and Ryan Templet — who played ahead of him. He’s hoping to move up a line or two next season and become one of the Eagles’ leaders in 2015.
“They taught me a lot,” Heller said. “I think I have a pretty good shot at (moving up).”
Hurlburt said he can see Heller playing No. 1 or No. 2 singles next season. If it hadn’t been because of the two experienced seniors ahead of him, Hurlburt said he would have used Heller in one of those roles even as a freshman.
“I think that he could have played line 1 or 2,” Hurlburt said. “We had two very solid returners in Kevin Mendez and Ryan Templet, who were seniors, ahead of him. I have always been the type of coaches that (weighs) proven and unproven. That won’t be the case next year.”
Heller said he enjoys tennis because he gets to compete as an individual. He got his first taste of being a part of a team at Etowah.
“It felt good having the pressure on me,” he said. “I think it helped me a lot.”
While still a freshman, he started picking up interest from college programs such as Florida, Samford and Southern California. His goal is to be ranked in the top 100 in the South by the end of the summer.
With several tournaments on his schedule already, Heller has a good opportunity to do that. He’s currently ranked 46th in his age group in Georgia.
Hurlburt sees a bright future for Heller.
“His upside is very, very good,” the coach said. “I like his attitude. He is confident, but not cocky. He is loose. He wants the ball in his hands when the match is on the line. That is why I felt line 3 was perfect for him and he was a perfect 12-0 at it.”