Trio of Zacharias brothers making impact for Norsemen

By: Thomas Franz | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 9, 2013

 From left, Jacob, Ben and Mitch Zacharias stand together before a practice.

From left, Jacob, Ben and Mitch Zacharias stand together before a practice.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

GROSSE POINTE — It’s not uncommon to see two siblings playing on a varsity team together.

But three?

That’s something rarely seen for any sport at any level.

Such is the case for Grosse Pointe North tennis this season, as Jacob Zacharias and his younger brothers, Mitch and Ben, are playing on the varsity squad together.

With such apparent talent for tennis in the family bloodlines, you would expect that the Zacharias boys were groomed to play tennis from a young age. However, Jacob, a senior, was the first member of the family to play the sport, and that wasn’t until he got to North his freshman year.

“None of us started until our freshman year. We all play at least two other sports, so we did that growing up. But we picked this up as a hobby and liked it, and just practiced at it,” Jacob said. “We never took lessons, and every once in a while, we would play with our friends, but it was just to joke around and have a good time. We never played competitively or ever focused on it.”

Outside of tennis, Jacob and Mitch, a sophomore, also play basketball and baseball, while the youngest of the three, Ben, a freshman, plays basketball and golf. Although they picked up tennis late, North coach John VanAlst explained that their strengths in athleticism and intelligence helps each of them overcome their deficits in tennis experience.

“On the tennis court, you have skills, athleticism and intelligence; those three things make up the sport. They have the athleticism, they have the brains, and they’re just lacking in the skills department a little bit. But you can’t count out the first two, because they have the will to win, and you can’t touch that,” VanAlst said.

Although the brothers share a lot of traits on and off the tennis court, VanAlst said that each of them understands their games and matches a little differently.

“They’re all the same because they all hate to lose. … They’re all coachable in their own way. … If you ask them to do something, they’ll apply it to the best of their abilities,” VanAlst said.

Jacob has come a long way in his tennis career at North, starting out as a freshman with no experience to playing No. 1 singles this season. For someone who doesn’t play tennis as his first sport, VanAlst said that Jacob’s development has been indicative of his dogged determination to improve each time he steps onto the court.

“Jake’s strength comes from his understanding of how a point develops and how to expose a weakness and capitalize on it and end the points based on exposing of the weakness,” VanAlst said. “Every season I’ve been with Jake, he gets stronger as the season goes along because he doesn’t play tennis year-round, but he’s just that determined and that much of a competitor. I told Jacob that if he wanted tennis to be his top sport, he would have been really good, and he knows it, too. But basketball is his first love.”

This is Mitch’s first year on the varsity team at North. Following his freshman season, Mitch gained an understanding of the sport, but his breakthrough came this past summer when VanAlst helped him improve his serve. From there, Mitch has been able to use his fearless instincts to make an impact at No. 2 doubles for the Norsemen.

“Mitchell’s strength is that he’s absolutely fearless, so he doesn’t know what he should or shouldn’t do. He understands the game and understands the rules, but he has no fear.  He’s a great doubles player,” VanAlst said. “He came for a few lessons over the summer, and we just showed him how to hit the serve, and he’s got one of the better serves on the team now.”

Getting Ben, who VanAlst said was the most intellectual player of the three, to make the varsity team his freshman season took some help from his older brothers.

“We actually didn’t think Ben was going to make varsity this year, but we played with him enough over the summer, and they would always hate me because I would beat him pretty badly, but they didn’t realize it helped him as much as anything in the end,” Jacob said. “When he came out to tryouts, it was a lot easier playing the other team than it is me.”

Although the Zacharias brothers all share the same determination to excel in whatever sport they play, VanAlst said they also share a unique trait to keep sports fun for them.

“They’re all comedians; they’re all jokesters. That’s the fun thing about the tennis team — it’s a pretty light-hearted group, and they’re all jokesters,” VanAlst said. “They all have fierce competitive streaks against their opponents and against each other. Sports is their common bond, and it brings them together and makes them strive to beat each other.”