Just after his first week of official practice, new transfer Jesse Miritello persuaded several of his Arizona Christian University tennis teammates to travel with him to Sedona for a team-building experience.
Not even knowing the names of many of the players yet, the sophomore got the Firestorm players to hike, jump off cliffs and get to know each other off the court.
Mere months later, in a pregame meeting before a 9-0 team sweep of Lewis-Clark State College on March 9, in which the ACU players discussed their personal and professional goals both as tennis players and students, it was clear that the Mesa product was among the team leaders.
Miritello, who won the 2016 AIA singles tennis championship for Mountain View High School, played one year at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego following graduation, but he said he was homesick and ready to transfer in his sophomore year to the small Phoenix-based Christian school and play for a nationally ranked team in the NAIA near his hometown.
“It’s really exciting. I like being close to home, family and friends, and it’s a good transition. It was good to get one year away to experience that, but I’m glad to be back,” he said.
Miritello has already earned a spot in the top doubles team for the Firestorm and has achieved instant success with partner, Enzo Douillac, racking up several consecutive wins.
Douillac said Miritello brings energy and poise, even when a match is not going well initially. That mental toughness, paired with immense technical ability, has the pair vying to be one of the best doubles squads in their conference.
“He’s really good at the net, and I have a pretty good serve and forehand, so I try to use my serve as much as I can. He does much of the work at the net, and I think it’s worked really well,” Douillac said.
Though there often is a period of turmoil, or at least a few road bumps fitting in with a new team, Miritello has taken it in stride, letting his play do much of the talking and continuing to work the way he always has.
“I am just doing what I’ve always been doing. I’ve always been good at doubles. my whole life I’ve just been playing tennis, so it’s just kind of what I do. It’s not too much different,” Miritello said.
Sixth-year Firestorm coach Chris Tolson said Miritello’s easygoing, laid-back personality serves to relax teammates in tense moments. He pushes the Firestorm to be better while still being able to joke around and understand that, above all, tennis should be fun.
“He’s one of the fiercest competitors out there but will always have that smile. He just enjoys tennis, every practice and every match, and the guys really enjoy being around him because of it,” Tolson said.
ACU finished its best season in school history in 2017, winning the Golden State Athletic Conference and claiming a spot in the NAIA Men’s Tennis Championship tournament for the first time. The Firestorm came up short, losing to William Woods in the round of 16.
The Firestorm brought back much of its conference championship roster for the 2018 season, and the addition of a player like Miritello has Tolson optimistic that the Firestorm can continue to succeed.
“The goal is to take one more step forward. With Jesse and the pieces we’ve added, our goal is not just to get back to Nationals, or just to win the conference, but to be in the top five in the nation and take the next step forward to being a top team,” he said. “It looks pretty good so far.”
– Reach Eric Newman at 480-898-7915 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.