The Wildcat boys tennis team just wrapped up the most successful sports season of any other county team, making it to the final four. As the team soared up the ranks, No. 1 singles player Michael Zhu led the team in both his undefeated streak and his leadership skills. For this, Zhu has been named April Bryan County Athlete of the Month.
Zhu received his award during a banquet in his honor on May 8 at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, which was attended by his family and Coach Pat Paruso. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s owners Doug and Georgia Goolsby also presented Zhu with a certificate of achievement and an Athlete of the Month T-shirt.
"He came so close to going to the Final Four the last three years that it hurt not to go there," Coach Pat Paruso said. "This year he got what he wanted, and he worked very hard for it. He’s a leader on the team – no doubt about it, and he’s the best player on the team."
Paruso said Zhu has been playing tennis for RHHS since he was in the eighth grade and has a current record of 21-2.
Earlier in the year, Zhu tried his hand at the RHHS wrestling team. For his efforts, Zhu earned the right to compete at the state tournament in Atlanta. Zhu said it was because, "I wanted to try something new. Plus it kept me in shape during the off-season and improved my endurance."
"A lot of coaches don’t want you playing more than one sport because of the risk of getting hurt," Paruso said. "By joining the wrestling team, Michael got stronger and it made him a better tennis player."
"I truly believe Michael would succeed at any sport if he put his mind to it," Wildcat wrestling Coach Rick Bond said. "His attitude and work ethic dictates just that. He is extremely quiet, but a team leader because he leads by his actions. The rest of the team look up to him and respect him because they recognize his superior effort. His ability is that of a winner. He drives himself to win, so it came as no surprise to see him make it to the state wrestling meet."
Zhu said he grew up playing soccer since the age of six at a rec league in Ohio, and played baseball in between seasons. He picked up tennis at age 11 and has been playing ever since. He said there was a tennis club right by his house that he took full advantage of.
"We saw the potential in him early on, but we never pushed him," his father Steve Zhu said. "His self-motivation has got him where he is. I’m very proud of him."
"Michael is extremely smart and has an excellent set of morals," Paruso said. "Michael wins his matches, but probably the biggest contribution is his work ethic. The other kids see him out there constantly practicing, and it’s contagious."
Zhu’s father said Zhu is also an accomplished piano player. He played keyboards for Savannah Christian Church and has taught several young children how to play piano. Right now, he’s working toward making a mission trip to Nicaragua this summer.
As for college, Michael is headed to Georgia Tech on three academic scholarships to become an engineer, like his father.
"I don’t know what the future holds for him in athletics, but he’s such a talented athlete that you may see him pop up on a pro golf tour," Paruso said. "He probably will walk on to the Georgia Tech tennis team."
Zhu said academics will be his main focus, but play Club tennis and is not ruling out joining the Yellow Jacket tennis team. Honorable mentions: RHHS baseball’s Nathan Kilburn, RHHS soccer’s Lauren Hall, BCHS baseball’s Justin Covington, BCHS tennis’s Cody Gunther, RHHS boys soccer’s Greyson Surges, RHHS track’s David Cassidy, BCHS track’s Mitzi Cross, RHHS golf’s Tyler Steptoe and BCHS golf’s Julian Hines.
For a photographic history of all the past Bryan County Athlete of the Month award winners, click here http://community.bryancountynews.net/gallery/detail/67/