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Garrison Piel Shines Through for Spartan Tennis

Townsend Colley, Sports Editor

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Throughout the year, different sports come and go. Championships are won and all-conference teams are announced as the stars of each season are laden with awards, and role-players are left in our memories. However, some of the stars of Southern Lehigh still remain overlooked despite their success. Garrison Piel is one of these athletes.

For the last couple of years, Southern Lehigh boys tennis has struggled to regain its footing after being perpetually stuck in the murky depths of mediocrity. But the sun can still shine through even the dirtiest of swamps. For the tennis team, Garrison Piel is one of the rays of sunshine. However, coming in during freshman year, he did not start this way.

Nervous and shy are the two words that Piel conjures to describe his first year on the team. If Piel’s feelings during his freshman year were a piece of art, they would be a stock photo on Google of “how freshmen always feel.” Nervous about the older players, having to live up to the expectations of a tennis-playing father, and living in the shadow of his older brother, who was a senior on the team at the time, Piel didn’t appear to be set up early on for success.

“I was pretty shy, but I found everyone, even the seniors and top tier players. It was really inviting.” Piel said. “It wasn’t very cliquey, everyone was just kind of a big group. It wasn’t this group of friends and that group of friends. Everyone was kind of just one uniform team.”

In this welcoming environment, he would be able to hone his craft over the course of his freshman year, and Piel had no lack of motivation when it came to doing so. Piel was driven by the goal of one day being able to hold his own against his father and brother. This desire for intense competition against his own family would soon evolve into a desire to become a more competitive force in the Colonial League tennis scene.

“Through all of the practices and stuff I slowly learned how to control, then how to add power, then how to add spin, and suddenly you’re playing games of tennis in singles,” Piel said. “It’s just fun.”

Heading into Piel’s sophomore season, his skills had rapidly progressed to the point where he was named a starter on the second doubles team — the lowest starting spot, but a starter nonetheless. He was the only sophomore, and the only non-senior besides then-junior Karl Finkbeiner, to start that season. While Piel had earned a milestone in his tennis career, the team as a whole regressed. After losing two of the top singles players from the previous season, they were left with inexperienced players to fill the holes in the starting lineup. Southern Lehigh finished the 2015 season with a record of 3-10, and the team’s struggles continued as attrition through graduation continued, and not enough younger players were joining the team.

“It was really hard to recover because teams were getting better, getting new people in,” Piel said. “We were consistently losing all our people.”

Once Piel’s junior season came, he returned as one of only two experienced starters, both of whom had struggled for success in lower tier starting positions. While the final box score was not a particularly appealing result for the Spartans, the young team, lead by Piel and Finkbeiner, was able to hold their own in most of their matches and only lost matches by an average margin of defeat, slightly over 2.5. Following a junior season where the tennis team would once again scratch and claw their way to a 3-10 record, Piel was named a captain for his senior year on the team.

“He’s one of the players with the most experience on the team; he’s just a good reliable person,” boys tennis head coach Andraea Drabenstott said. “He definitely exhibits leadership skills. He takes charge.”

As a senior captain, Piel was tasked with leading yet another young team to success. However, the situation seemed much more promising. The team had so many players try out for the team this past season that they had to cut half of those that tried out. This influx of so many new players allowed the Spartans to grow together as a unit and set them up for future success. Finishing with a record of 3-10 yet again may not seem like an improvement, but it is a step forward for a middling team.

The development of the team is noticeable. For example, for the first time in over three years, the team finished with an all-Colonial league selection with junior Ben Forster and freshman Krishna Annambhotla named as honorable mentions.

While Piel may not be able to share the success that may come in the future for the boys tennis team, he will be remembered as one of the driving forces that pushed the team through some of the rougher years.

“Even when we’re losing really bad,” sophomore tennis player Sam Wetzel said, “he manages to keep morale up, which is good for the team.”

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Garrison Piel Shines Through for Spartan Tennis