When Jake Norman won the Class 3-2-1A boys tennis titles the past two years — giving up three combined games — it was pretty easy to predict he’d do the same at next month’s state tournament.
But Norman isn’t playing high school tennis.
In January, Norman moved to Overland Park, where he’s living with friends of his family and focusing on improving his game. He attends Blue Valley North, but doesn’t compete for the school, instead practicing for three to five hours a day with Chris Smith at Blue Hills Country Club.
The goal is a college scholarship at a big tennis school.
“To move up here, a big part of it was quality of practice,” Norman said. “To be able to hit with these guys.… The practice is a huge plus, as is the private team environment. There’s a good group of guys up here. We play every day. We’re all junior national players; it’s good competition.”
The level of competition is the key. While Norman’s game has progressed over the years, too many times he felt he wasn’t being challenged enough.
“There weren’t enough good players here for him to get regular workouts,” said Simon Norman, Jake’s dad and Independent’s coach. “…You go to high school tournaments and there was maybe one good match. Maybe.
“He felt like it was taking more time than it was worth. On those days he’d prefer to work out and work on specific things. He was getting so frustrated around here.”
While Jake Norman enjoyed the camaraderie of high school tennis, he didn’t want to play his sophomore season, either.
“I kind of made him last year,” Simon Norman said.
The father’s reasoning was if then-BV North senior Jack Sock, now a professional, was still playing high school tennis, then Jake Norman could, too.
Simon Norman, also Genesis Health Club director of tennis, is a proponent of high school tennis and would have liked to see his son stay and play. Especially because he enjoyed coaching Jake, and his older son, Ryan, who plays at Creighton.
“He’s got to get this out of system,” Simon Norman said. “I don’t know if it will work out or not work out. If his game will level off or take off. I don’t think you want someone who has that potential to be able to come back and say, ‘I didn’t get a chance to do this or this.’ I see a lot of kids in tennis, high school, who have a chip on their shoulders — ‘If I would have had this chance, I could do this.’
“Give an opportunity to maybe fulfill your dream. Try to make the best decision at the time. That’s what we did.”
Jake Norman is in a home with a family the Normans trust. He’s with a coach his dad trusts.
And Jake Norman is getting what he wanted, a chance to put more work into his tennis game, especially for the upcoming summer of Missouri Valley tournaments and national tournaments, which will be the most important time for recruiting.
He’s already seen a change in his game.
“We work hard for hours a day. I expect a change,” Norman said. “It’s why I came up here, to be improving, and it’s working out so far. I’ll continue to work hard.”
Norman has acclimated well, although it’s been a big change. He had attended Independent since kindergarten and now he’s at a Class 6A school with 1,300 more students than Independent.
And he’s away from his parents, Simon and Laura. It was his dad’s birthday on Tuesday; that was difficult to miss.
“It was tough being away for that,” Norman said. “And my mother, I miss her a lot.”
His parents miss him, too.
“Yeah, it was hard for me to let go,” Simon Norman said.
Whether Jake Norman stays in Overland Park past this spring is unknown. He’ll be traveling to various Missouri Valley tournaments in the summer, and his dad will go to some with him.
Next year, Norman could be back at Independent. And that would be good, too.
“I’m keeping my options open,” he said. “This will be my most important summer.”
And right now, that’s the focus.