Springstead senior Henry “Hank” William Deslaurier IV has had a fascination with playing chess for years.
That analytical side of chess – always anticipating 1-3 moves ahead of his opponent – enabled him to transition well to his other passions: his schoolwork and his life on the prep tennis courts.
The four-year Eagle netter recently edged out Nature Coast Technical junior Jesse DeWitt for the county’s top prize – Player of the Year honors.
Born in Bradenton as the middle of three children to Florida educators, Hank III and Cindy Deslaurier, the younger Deslaurier is an outstanding student/athlete.
The 14-year resident of Hernando County carries an unweighted 3.75 grade point average and a 4.3 weighted GPA in the school’s International Baccalaureate program.
His favorite classes include history and chemistry.
After the Eagles’ commencement exercises in less than three weeks, Deslaurier expects to major in computer science at his next stop: Orlando’s University of Central Florida.
He aspires to be a software architect – a program designer rather than a software supporter.
Deslaurier’s current 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame belies his abilities on the court.
His first organized sport was on the pitch playing soccer for the Hernando Heat, mostly at midfield or defense. He participated in recreational soccer until seventh grade.
Oddly in middle school, Deslaurier participated in one sport – tennis – for three different teams.
In sixth-grade, he played for the West Hernando Eagles. As a seventh-grader, he played for the Explorer Bobcats.
A year later, he didn’t attend any middle school and instead was home-schooled via the quickly broadening Florida Virtual School program. Yet he still played tennis for his zoned school: Fox Chapel.
Upon matriculating to the Mariner Boulevard campus of Springstead, Deslaurier honed in on two sports: cross country and tennis. He utilized cross country as a vehicle to prepare him for the rigors of tennis.
Deslaurier explained why he settled on tennis.
“Dad coached at Central for years (10) and I’d go from Pinegrove Elementary right after school to the courts and watch his teams play a lot,” he recalled. “Then I started playing in middle school and I enjoyed it.
“Tennis is an individual sport wrapped up in a team setting,” pointed out the 18-year-old Deslaurier. “Same with cross country. I really liked that aspect of both sports. It really was all on me. My performance level was based on me.”
From 2011-14, Deslaurier was a starter for the long downtrodden Eagle tennis program.
After an undistinguished freshman campaign, the program got an expected boost when former Central High girls tennis guru Joe Nicolai came out of retirement to replace an ailing Doug Haskedakes.
Prior to Nicolai taking over, the Eagles were a combined 48-74 (39 percent) from 2002-11.
During that span, SHS had never won a county championship, nor captured a district championship. In a decade’s time, SHS had totaled five individual district champs.
Nicolai, who had guided the Lady Bears to six district titles and two runner-up trophies in nine years, immediately made a difference.
Over the next three seasons, the Spring Hill netters captured a district runner-up trophy and back-to-back district titles – the school’s first.
Moreover, SHS reached regionals in 2013 for the first time in school history and followed with its first-ever regional crown in 33 years this season.
In the process, the Eagle netters not only collected 10 individual district crowns and have etched two county titles in the past three years, but have been represented at states in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever.
Under Nicolai’s tutelage, Deslaurier’s game took flight.
“He’s a good coach,” insisted Deslaurier. “It’s an interesting relationship. He really tells you what you need to hear. It’s a frustrating relationship because he tells it to you straight. Sometimes you need someone to tell you to get your basics right.
“Coach never stresses power in tennis; it’s all about placement,” he added. “He makes you concentrate on hitting the corners and angles; that all starts in practice by repeating the fundamentals.”
When the dust settled, Deslaurier left the Mariner Boulevard program with 14 school records.
“I’m going to miss him tremendously. He’s the smartest tennis player I’ve ever seen,” detailed SHS’ Nicolai. “He’s not the most athletic guy, but if there’s an advantage, he’ll exploit it.
“I just enjoyed watching him play. When one of his opponents would creep a shot over the net, he’d hit a shot right past him. … He’s very deserving of this honor.
“He’s an IB kid with a bright future. … No matter what he does in the future, he’ll be a very successful person.
“He never got down. … I’ve seen him down love-5 and find a something to get back into a match.”
“I loved watching Hank play because he always played his game, not anyone else’s game,” added Hernando mentor Kenneth Day. “He’s a really tactical player; really smart on the courts.
“Off the courts he was very pleasant and easy to talk to.”
“I really wasn’t expecting this,” reacted Deslaurier to the POY announcement. “This is very exciting. It’s more of a culmination of a lot of hard work. I really think I’m fortunate to get this; there are a lot of good kids out there.”
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The three-time All-County selection mapped out the genesis of his success.
“Mostly I’ve improved in the mental part of the game,” Deslaurier said. “I used to get frustrated very easily; I go through racquets all the time. I’ve really worked at not getting angry – that’s ultimately gets you off your game and what you want to do.”
“The biggest thing in my game is my consistency and focusing on one point at a time,” he added. “It’s funny. In middle school, I wasn’t consistent at all. Then when I listened to what Coach Nicolai was saying, I began applying his strategies.
“He was exactly right. Guys with booming serves can’t keep up that pace during a match, so power tennis rarely wins out,” he said. “When I play a match, I try to remove the emotions of the game. It’s a lot like playing chess. I use that aspect of strategy to set up my opponents and find out how I can win a match.”
In chronicling what he was most proud of, “As a team, that’s easy – our back-to-back district championships,” noted Deslaurier. “It’s never been done here before. Every time I walk past the trophy case at school, there aren’t many tennis trophies – but I’m very proud of what our team has accomplished.”
“It’s really a moment of pride,” described Deslaurier on his six district championship blue ribbons – two for each of the past three seasons in singles and doubles play. “In each district match that’s exactly what I wanted and my job was to win as many matches as I could.”
Though Deslaurier did not win in his first-ever state matches during this season’s Class 3A FHSAA Finals in Seminole County, “My four regional wins, including the three this year really stand out,” he said. “Those are higher-level matches than districts. It proved I could compete with some of the best kids across the state.”
In his immediate future, Deslaurier does not plan on playing tennis for the D-I Knights.
“I just plan on being a student at UCF,” explained Deslaurier. “Playing that level of tennis is ridiculous. I wouldn’t mind though playing at the club level or even intramurals.”
Deslaurier paused a moment before replying on what his legacy at SHS would be.
“I want to be remembered as a consistent guy,” he said. “Somebody who went to practice every day and gave 100 percent in every match, win or lose.
“Records are important, but being a guy who showed up every day and played hard every match means just as much.”
By the numbers: Springstead’s Hank Deslaurier
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR W L .PCT
2011 9 7 .563
2012*+ 18 2 .900
2013*+ 16 2 .889
2014*+^$ 16 3 .842
TOTALS 59 14 .808
YR W L .PCT
2011 9 5 .643
2012+ 18 1 .947
2013*+ 13 4 .765
2014*+^$ 17 1 .944
TOTALS 57 11 .838
* Denotes All-County selection.
+ Denotes district champion
^ Denotes region champion
$ Denotes state qualifier
By the numbers: Hank Deslaurier’s SHS School Records: 2011-14 (14)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
RK NO. RECORD
1. 141 Combined Career Singles/Doubles Matches
1. 116 Combined Career Singles/Doubles Wins
1. 73 Career Singles Matches
1. 59 Career Singles Wins
1. 68 Career Doubles Matches
1. 57 Career Doubles Wins
1. 20 Single-Season Singles Matches (2012)
1. 19 Single-Season Doubles Matches (2012)
1. 18 Single-Season Doubles Wins (2012)
1. 3 Career District Singles Titles
1. 3 Career District Doubles Titles
1. 6 Career Combined District Titles
1. 3 Single-Season Regional Wins
1. 4 Career Regional Wins