McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 24, 2014

A “chance” encounter for Chance Sistrunk

By Matt Goisman
Sports Writer

McALESTER — McAlester senior Chance Sistrunk played baseball throughout his childhood, but a wrist injury ended that in the sixth grade. He said his mother suggested he try tennis as a spring sport instead, so Sistrunk joined McAlester’s summer tennis camp before the start of the seventh grade.

Six years later, Sistrunk is a three-time state qualifier, a state runner-up in two-singles and the 2014 Buffaloes’ top singles player.

“I want to win a one-singles state title, but also I’d like to see the team do well,” Sistrunk said March 18. “It’s an individual sport, but in high school we get a team.”

Sistrunk said he’d never picked up a racket before that first camp, and at first he didn’t care for the sport that would someday send him to college.

“First two days, I didn’t want to go at all, hated,” Sistrunk. “I actually got bumped up to the intermediate class at summer camp (on the third day), and I was like, ‘Well hey, maybe this isn’t too bad.’”

Though one of the worst players in junior high, according to both himself and coach Chad Waller, by his freshman year he was on varsity. He made the state tournament at one-singles as a freshman, then made it back to State as a sophomore in one-singles.

He returned to State again as a junior last season, finishing second in Class 5A in two-singles.

“I could not get comfortable,” Sistrunk said of his 2013 state championship match, which was against Booker T. Washington’s Cole Inhofe.

“It just wasn’t coming off the racket right. I didn’t feel nervous at all out there. I didn’t feel upset. I just couldn’t play.”

At Buffs tennis practices, Sistrunk often seems like the loudest, most enthusiastic person on the court, his voice encouraging his teammates almost unceasingly. Sistrunk is also part of a particularly vocal group of students who’ve been mainstays at McAlester athletic contests, cheering on his classmates in softball, basketball, football and baseball.

“I have friends in all the sports,” Sistrunk said.

“If you’re at the sporting event, and you’re not cheering on the team, why be there?”

Though Sistrunk’s personality often comes off as affable, don’t mistake that for carefree. That voice that can so loudly support his teammates can quickly turn into harsh criticism at himself when he’s playing badly.

After a lost match — especially against a weaker opponent — Sistrunk’s positivity can disappear entirely, replaced by a nearly silent, seething anger.

“He loves to win, that’s for sure, and he loves to get after it,” Waller said of Sistrunk. “But he can get down on himself too if he’s not playing well.”

Waller said Sistrunk has looked more composed this year than ever before, which is one reason he thinks Sistrunk could win a state championship this season.

Sistrunk said the backhand in tennis came pretty quickly, but the forehand and serve were tougher to learn.

Taking additional private lessons with Waller helped.

“He’s kind of molded my entire game,” Sistrunk said of his coach. “Anything I have, I owe to him.”

Sistrunk’s solid relationship with Waller has also meant Sistrunk will get to keep playing tennis after this senior season ends. Sistrunk will play for Seminole State College next year, and he said Waller first put him in touch with Seminole’s coaches.

“I really like the guys that are on the team,” Waller said of Seminole. “I’m a big fan of the dorms at the college, and it’s not too far away. Most (high school) seniors might not admit it, but I think we’re all scared to go off. ... It’s far enough away to where I don’t have to rely on my home, but I can come home if I have to.”

Sistrunk said he plans to study environmental or biochemical engineering, and after finishing college might want to apply his major to the oil industry. He said several family members have worked as drillers, but he’s the first to go to college.

Seminole is a two-year college. Sistrunk said that if he can’t find a four-year school to play tennis for after, he’d like to finish his studies at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

When he’s not playing or watching tennis — he said his favorite player is Novak Djokovic, the current No. 2 player in the world — Sistrunk enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee. He’s an organizer for a group of local high-school Ultimate players, having first discovered the sport when some friends of his in college invited him to play.

“After that game, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s actually really, really fun,’ and so I started looking up different throws on YouTube,” Sistrunk said.

“If you’re going to do something, you have to be good at it.”

Sistrunk said the stamina required to play tennis made it easy to play Ultimate. Like in tennis, the two main Ultimate throws are called the forehand and the backhand, and the mechanics are very similar in both sports.

Ultimate’s primary two throws are called the forehand and the backhand. They mimic the same-named strokes in tennis, and Sistrunk said the throws came naturally to him.

Sistrunk is also an at-large member of the student council at McAlester High School, and he’s a member of Students in Faith. He’s also an active member of First Baptist Church in McAlester, running a study group for male student-athletes that he said started with six people and has now ballooned to more than 30.

“He put in a lot a lot of hard work, and it’s really paid off for him,” Waller said of Sistrunk. “I’ll definitely miss him because he’s athletic, he’s fun to be around, he has a great personality and he has a bright future.”

Sistrunk may not have known the path he was setting himself on by attending that first summer tennis camp.

But six years later, tennis is now an inseparable part of Sistrunk’s past, present and future.

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.