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BRIAN WHITEHEAD, STAFF
Garden Grove High senior Cody Tran recently became the first tennis player in school history to capture four consecutive Garden Grove League singles championships. "He's a role model," Argonauts coach William Lou said. "He's working hard, and the younger kids see that and aspire to be like that. He's rare, though. Only a small percentage of guys attain that level of achievement."

Tran rises to the top at Garden Grove

STAFF WRITER

One of William Lou’s favorite Cody Tran stories predates Tran’s time at Garden Grove High.

In sixth grade, Tran often watched his older sister, Priscilla, play for Lou, the school’s longtime boys and girls tennis coach. For every league match, Lou remembers, Tran purposely wore the other team’s school colors – a little brother’s way of getting under an older sister’s skin.

For Los Amigos High, Tran wore orange – which was, and still is, his favorite color. For Rancho Alamitos High, Tran wore green. La Quinta High, blue. And so on and so forth.

Tran’s habit became ritual, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Lou still laughs at Tran’s tomfoolery.

“He was always having fun out here,” Lou said last week.

In 2012, Tran began wearing Garden Grove colors exclusively, the red in which he’s since done things on a tennis court no former player ever has.

Recently crowned Garden Grove League singles champion for the fourth time, Tran is arguably the greatest player in school history.

“It's awesome,” he said. “There's really no other way to describe it.”

***

The names of Garden Grove’s past league champions are forever immortalized on a towering stone wall just outside the school’s tennis complex.

For as long as he can remember, Tran – the son of a former Long Beach Jordan High letter winner – wanted similar lore.

He arrived at Garden Grove an anomaly, one of the few players Lou can remember having a basic understanding of the game. His serves had zip despite his diminutive build. He rallied well for a freshman, but he rarely approached the net, Lou said, and most of his shots flew waywardly.

Lou refined Tran’s game over the course of the regular season, teaching him the finer points of hitting with purpose, of thinking two steps ahead.

If you hit the ball deep, this will happen. If you hit the ball hard, that will happen.

Tran began taking points, and then sets, off of older players easier, and in various ways. His serves gained velocity and length, often jamming opposing players at impact, creating simpler, quicker rallies. Tran's shots flew true and with spin. His backhand ended rallies.

Tran captured the Garden Grove League singles championship his freshman year, defeating teammate Jonathan Huynh. Garden Grove in 2012 won its first league title in years, and then advanced to the Division 4 semifinals, another program milestone.

Tran later lost to Tesoro High’s Luke Mountain, 6-0, 6-1, in the first round of sectionals at the CIF-SS Individual Tennis Championships.

He returned his sophomore year, though, and did it all over again.

***

Angles and strategy became Tran’s curriculum in 2013, with Lou preaching the importance of playing to an opponent’s flaws rather than to his own strengths.

Tran’s serve became a “weapon” that year, Lou said. He could throw no less than five variations of the same shot at an opponent – each with the same result. Still only a sophomore, Tran benefited from practicing alongside upperclassmen, burnishing his chops against teammates well aware of his pet shots and tendencies.

Garden Grove in 2013 swept its league slate for the second consecutive year but fell in the Division 4 quarterfinals. Tran repeated as league singles champion, but again lost in the first round of sectionals, 6-0, 6-1, to Fairmont Prep’s Max Pham.

“He was making progress, getting his game to the next level slowly but surely,” Lou said.

Both Garden Grove and Tran retained their respective league championships last season; Tran matching former Garden Grove letter winner Clifford Yook as the program’s only three-time league singles titlist. Last year’s Argonauts returned to the Division 4 quarterfinals.

Tran in 2014 defeated Magnolia High’s Eric Nguyen, 6-2, 6-1, in the first round of sectionals, before dropping straight sets to University High’s Drew Dawson, an eventual CIF semifinalist.

Graduations in the spring ravaged Garden Grove’s starting nine, with Tran returning as the program’s lone holdover of note.

***

Tran spent this past summer playing more tennis than ever before.

He turned mornings into afternoons and afternoons into evenings hitting balls at local tennis courts, and he also began playing sanctioned youth tournaments in the area. Previously afraid of failing at such showcases, Tran held his own alongside tennis lifers and upperclassmen bound for Division I programs.

“Those kids have been training since they were 5, 6 years old,” he said. “Some are home-schooled so they can play tennis all the time. Me, I’m only good in this school district. But out there, everyone is good. ... I play to play. Those kids, they play to win.”

Tran began his senior season a better shot-maker, a fearless and cunning rallier. But high school tennis became something more.

As the only returning player with legitimate varsity experience, Tran said he could no longer expect greatness from his teammates. This season, he had to coax it out of them. Only thing was, he didn’t know how.

Tran lacked patience at the beginning of the year, growing frustrated at times with his teammates’ aloofness. Why was he the only one working hard?

In the fall, during the girls season, Tran arranged hitting drills while Lou coached. Tran often found himself coaching more than practicing, later admitting he struggled finding a balance between the two.

“If you’re patient, they’ll listen,” Tran said. “It’s not always about myself. It’s about the team. I know I’ll do well, but if I’m the only one that does well, we won’t win.”

Garden Grove grew closer as a team as the season drew near, and everyone began doing their part, improving. Tran said varsity newcomers “found ways to win,” especially in close matches. The Argonauts prevailed by seven games in its second league clash with La Quinta.

Lou again helmed an unbeaten league titlist, and Tran became the school’s first four-time league singles champion, saying this 2015 title “was more difficult to win than the first three. Senior year, everything was on the line.”

Garden Grove lost to Laguna Beach High, 11-7, in the Division 4 quarterfinals.

***

Tran will continue his tennis career at Irvine Valley College – one of the top community college programs in the state – but not before competing one last time at the CIF-SS Individual Tennis Championships later this month.

He’ll attempt to become the first Garden Grove League representative since Yook in 2003 to advance to the third round of sectionals, and Lou believes his work in the summer will pay dividends as the bracket shrinks and the cream rises to the top.

“I don’t take any credit for his success,” Lou said. “I’m just a part of it. He has his hitting partners, his teammates, his dad. All those people have helped make him who he is today.”

Former players of Lou’s return every season to help bring along their successors. Tran regularly rallies with last year’s teammates, while also picking their brain for any strategic edge.

“He put pressure on himself to become a four-time champ,” Lou said. “He’s a role model. He’s working hard, and the younger kids see that and aspire to be like that. He’s rare, though. Only a small percentage of guys attain that level of achievement.”

A similar mentoring position awaits Tran, who said he wants to eventually receive his teaching and coaching credentials.

Tran’s previous three league championships are noted on Garden Grove’s wall, but his fourth, Lou said, likely won’t be recognized until the fall, when Garden Grove completes its campus remodel.

Lou doesn’t believe there’s another Cody Tran on his roster, if only because few kids share his love for the sport and work ethic. Everyone’s trying, though, and who knows, Lou’s next four-time league titlist could very well be waiting in the wings.

Thanks to Tran, he’ll have the blueprint.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3790 or bwhitehead@ocregister.com


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