Mason Pack and James Phillips always make time for tennis, squeezing as much of the sport as they can into their busy schedules.
Once the fall sports season turns into the winter sports season, they will be on the basketball court. A few months after that, it will be time for track and field.
Close friends since they met as freshmen, Pack and Phillips are teammates every season of the school year, excelling in all three sports.
It all starts with tennis.
This season, the two tall seniors from Prairie hope to extend their tennis season into November by advancing to the bi-district tournament in doubles.
“I was just hoping to get better, have fun,” Pack said of his introduction to tennis a few years ago. “Now we’re at the level that it’s fun and we’re competitive, which is the best of both worlds.”
Dubbed the Twin Towers by teammates and friends, they create an imposing figure on the tennis court.
“Two basketball players who play tennis,” Phillips said. “You don’t see too many 6-4 doubles partners in high school.”
Pack gets credit for creating this team. He went out for tennis his freshman year before he met Phillips. They had a class together that first month, but did not really get to know each other until the basketball season.
“I didn’t even know your name for two weeks,” Pack said to Phillips. “It was always, ‘Hey, dude.’ “
A lot has changed.
“I would say we’re like brothers,” Pack said. “I could call his mom my mom and she’d be fine with it.”
Fast friends became fast doubles partners. Seriously fast.
“He invited me out to tennis sophomore year. The rest is history,” Phillips said.
Pack and Phillips played varsity doubles in Phillips’ first competitive match.
They have not dominated the sport, by any means. They did not win a match at the district tournament that first year together. As juniors, they fared a little better but did not advance to the bi-district tournament.
“I call it my humbling sport,” Phillips said, noting that he has always been more successful in basketball and track and field. “Then you come to tennis and you play against guys who have played all their lives. I love it. I love the competition.”
It is the competition within the competition that has driven them to improve. Close as brothers, they compete as brothers do, too. After all, teammates in any sport battle each other in practice more than they face opponents in matches or games.
“We’re always butting heads on the court, on the field, in the classroom, everything,” Phillips said.
They are always trying to one-up the other, but it’s for a good reason.
“All the competition helps us play really well together,” Pack said.
Phillips got to varsity basketball before Pack did and Phillips is the more accomplished track and field athlete. Pack, though, has the better grade point average, a cumulative 3.42 to Phillips’ 3.33.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Phillips said.
“I rub it in sometimes,” Pack said with a grin.
Phillips should finish his high school athletic career with nine varsity letters. Pack should have eight.
The real winner here might be Prairie tennis coach Chris Linquist.
“Integrity. Confident yet humble. Selfless … think of team first,” Linquist said of their qualities while adding they also are coachable.
That is important, too.
Through the years, they have dealt with a lot of coaches.
“One of the biggest things is being open-minded and ready to learn,” Phillips said. “Put your ego aside.”
Pack said all of their coaches at Prairie help them with qualities needed in life.
“Be humble. Be kind. Be happy, win or lose, and push yourself,” he said.
The goal the rest of this season is to advance to the bi-district tournament in November. If they do that and make it to state, well, that would just be the ultimate. It also would be the ultimate ending. If they reach the state tournament, played in the spring, they both will respectfully bow out, knowing they accomplished something special.
The state track and field meet is scheduled for the same dates as the state tennis tournament. With Prairie hoping to contend for a state team title in track, Pack and Phillips are needed there.
Phillips competes in hurdles, long jump and high jump. Pack also does long jump and high jump plus runs on the 1,600 relay team.
They still appreciate tennis, though.
“It’s a toss-up between tennis and basketball,” Pack said, referring to his favorite sport. “Because it’s tennis season, I love tennis more right now.”
Phillips won’t pick one sport over another.
“I love being an athlete. Let’s put it that way,” Phillips said. “I love competition, getting stronger, getting faster. I love sports in general, even the ones I don’t play.”
Organized high school tennis only has about a month left for these two. They will not have time to miss it, plus they won’t really miss it anyway.
“We’ll probably be playing tennis for the rest of our lives,” Pack said.