Kane County Chronicle Boys Tennis Athlete of the Year: Marmion’s Ben Graft

Graft went 25-1, with his only loss coming in state title match

Marmion's Ben Graft

Ben Graft has built himself quite the reputation both on and off the tennis court.

For the second season in a row, the Marmion junior entered the Class 1A singles state championship match undefeated before falling to top-ranked Nicholas Patrick, who’s the only player to defeat Graft at the high school level.

While his 25-1 record and second-place finish at state helped lead Graft to being named the Kane County Chronicle Boys Tennis Player of the Year, it’s his actions off the court that have stood out the most to coach Brian Cole.

“It’s nice to have somebody who has street cred to help out. It’s like having another coach out there,” Cole said. “It’s almost like when your dad tells you something and it doesn’t make sense, but someone else says it and everyone gets it.

“But it’s been a joy having him around. He’s always the last guy to leave, he’s always cheering everyone else on and he’s just a super humble person.”

Graft’s second-place finish at state was his third top-three finish in a row. He finished third at state his freshman season and took second during his sophomore year.

While the results didn’t change from last year to this year at the individual level, Graft said he was happy to be part of a team that just missed out on a sectional title.

“I was just happy enough to be on a successful team this year,” Graft said. “We were winning a lot more than we have in years past. And even though my individual performance didn’t really change too much, that was really good about this season compared to others.”

The Cadets’ team consisted mostly of juniors this season and Graft stepped into a leadership role, Cole said. Graft would get players ready to work together in doubles and they would work on mastering shots.

“He could have been a prima donna and not dealt with anyone, but he did the opposite,” Cole said. “He’ll work with the freshmen and sophomores on things from kick serves to slicing backhands to whatever. He’s willing to hang around and show them.”

And it’s not just with his fellow Cadets. Cole said during Graft’s first appearance in the championship match in 2023 that not only were his teammates cheering for him but all of his past opponents as well.

“Every time he comes off the court, regardless of the result, he’ll tell his opponent what they did well. He’s just very gracious toward them,” Cole said. “He’s got a great reputation and great sportsmanship. He’s just an awesome kid all-around.”

Graft started playing tennis when he was 5 years old, but didn’t begin playing in tournaments until he was about 10. By the time he was 12, he decided he wanted to do whatever he could to succeed in everything tennis related and the work he’s done throughout his high school years has shown it.

“I’ve been more focused on adding more power and pace to my shots since my freshman year,” Graft said. “I’ve also been trying to work out a lot more and just have stronger shots that can hurt the opponent.”

While one of his goals is getting Marmion a sectional championship as a team next season, Graft wants to make sure his senior season ends a bit differently than the past three seasons with a win over Patrick and a state title to his name.

“I’m really just going to stick to my game plan and trust what I’m doing while working harder than before,” Graft said. “Whether that be on the court or in the gym, just anything that will help me get to that next level.”

All-Area Boys Tennis Team

Singles: Umar Bajwa (St. Francis), Ben Graft (Marmion), Ben Goddard (St. Charles North), Tiernan Pierce (St. Charles East), John Spicer (St. Charles North), Alex Sternowski (St. Charles East)

Doubles: TJ Stras and Erik Warner (Batavia), Aaron Masoncup and Tyler Masoncup (Geneva), Noah Bajuk and Cole Weddle (St. Charles North)