Jeffersonville senior Sam Coward capped his tennis career by winning the IHSAA’s coveted Mental Attitude Award at the conclusion of the team state championships. Coward played No.1 doubles for the Red Devils, who finished the season 22-1 after falling to eventual state champion North Central in the state semifinal. Coward teamed with Jackson Reilly to post s 21-3 record as a doubles tandem.
Courier-Journal: After going undefeated as a team, Jeffersonville faced North Central, the two-time defending state champion. How did you approach that challenge?
Sam Coward: We went into it as an experience. We were in the Final Four and we approached it like we had other matches, that it could be our last match and have fun and give it all we had. That’s the attitude I had, giving it my all.
C-J: Did you have any clue your coach (Mark Reilly) had nominated you, on a team with four seniors, for the Mental Attitude Award?
Coward: I just knew he had nominated me for an award, but I didn’t know how big it was. When I looked at the list of people who have won it before, I was just honored.
C-J: What does that award mean to you?
Coward: It means a lot. It makes me proud of what I’ve become, make me proud of the people who got me here. It was humbling.
C-J: Now your tennis career is over. Has that fact hit you yet?
Coward: It’s a downer, but at the same time it’s turning over a new leaf in my life. Tennis has been a part of my childhood and high school career, and now it’s time to start something new as I move into being an adult. Winning that award was a good way to finish it off. I’ve been recognized for my achievements, and now it’s time to move on with the rest of my life.
C-J: What did tennis teach you about yourself?
Coward: It taught me mental toughness and determination. Tennis is all about you and putting all of you into it, whether it’s a one-on-one or two-on-two match. It’s really intense, and you learn to control anger. There are times it is very frustrating, so I learned how to deal with that and focus.
C-J: Coach Reilly also announced he is stepping away from the program. What has he meant to you?
Coward: He’s the real reason I’ve ever done anything in tennis. He got me to play, he gave me a place to play and encouraged me. He’s been the biggest part of the program, because he’s very involved. He’s been involved in my life and very influential in a positive way. He’s a great man who has had a huge impact on the program and the people in the program. It’s been a great honor to have him as a coach. He’s one of the few coaches who is super kind. He’s not gruff and mean, he coaches with love and you can tell.
C-J: When you look back on your career, what will you remember the most?
Coward: In all honesty, it’s the relationships I’ve made while on the team, the people I’ve met and the things that have gone on. It’s something I will remember forever. It’s been a neat experience to watch people grow up. There have been good times and long hours of practice, going through the grind with my friends and my coach.
SAM COWARD UP CLOSE
Family: parents Mark and Jennifer; brother Luke (21), sister Julia (14)
Student/athlete: Sam is a member of the National Honor Society, and he was named the Mental Attitude Award winner in tennis. He was named All-State in doubles the past two seasons. He plans to major in business and finance in college.
Coach Mark Reilly: Sam is a class act who represents Jeffersonville High School on such a high standard. He will be missed but not forgotten.