By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda's tennis sensations — John-Michael and Andrew LeMar — have a bit of a reputation around the Niagara Frontier League.
Both brothers have been dominant this season, going undefeated while alternating in the No. 1 and 2 singles slots to lead the Lumberjacks to the regular season NFL championship. Their consistent performance on the court and their humble approach off it has made them the crown jewels of the league.
"They're gentlemen on and off the court," said Grand Island coach Don Pray. "They represent the Niagara Frontier League very well when it comes to their level of play. It's just a pleasure to watch them play."
North Tonawanda coach John LeMar, also the brothers' father, said what is so amazing about the two is how different they are in both their games and personality.
"It's really weird because their tennis games and sometimes their personalities are very opposite," John LeMar said. "(John-Michael) is more of a scrapper and he'll make a lot of balls; he plays real hard. Then Andrew has always had real good hand-eye coordination — and while he's a little smaller than John, he really hits the ball hard."
John-Michael is a senior and his game is built on patience and work ethic. He tries to beat his opponent mentally before the match even begins by focusing on what he must do to be effective. Andrew, a junior, is more of a grip-it-and-rip-it type player, but his accuracy and commitment to preparation are what helped make him the top singles player in the NFL.
"On the court they are two different types of players," Pray said. "John is very consistent, smart and has a good first serve. Andrew is able to move guys side to side and has strong placement of shots. He's able to hit the line — sideline, baselines consistently. He goes for it a little bit more than his older brother. When he sees a shot he'll be able to put the ball away."
Despite the brothers' singles success, they are competing in the NFL tournament today as a doubles team. They are the two-time defending NFL doubles champions and hope to improve on a fourth place finish at sectionals last year for a shot to go to states, which would be the first time in almost 10 years NT was represented.
Andrew LeMar qualified as the No. 1 singles player in the NFL but chose to join his brother once again in their quest for state doubles glory. John LeMar said that John-Michael, who has been a doubles champion at NFL's all three years at NT, could have challenged the No. 2 singles player because he went undefeated, but both father and sons feel the best chance for states is through the doubles path.
Andrew is excited as he and John-Michael prepare for another run at states.
"We almost went to states last year in doubles," he said. "That was fun and hopefully with one more year we can make it."
Both John-Michael and Andrew LeMar are used to playing with a target on their back, and John-Michael said the extra attention has helped keep them focused during matches.
"They gun for us every time, especially for whoever is playing first (singles)," he said. "But you have to go in there, you can't underestimate anyone, and that's the thing I probably stress the most. I've had a couple close sets and you just have to keep focusing."
John LeMar has coached at NT for 21 years (only 12 as boys coach) and played high school tennis across town at Tonawanda. After graduating from Brockport, he went on to play in United States Tennis Association tournaments as an adult and both John-Michael and Andrew, who played multiple sports growing up, gained an appreciation for tennis by watching their dad.
On and off the court, John LeMar said the boys contrast each other nicely.
"They're both extremely competitive, in different ways," John LeMar said. "John gets fired up during his matches and Andrew will keep it in. It's funny that way."
The NFL tournament begins today and the LeMar's need a Top 2 finish to qualify for sectionals, which are scheduled for May 21 and 22.
Many in the NFL are wishing John-Michael and Andrew the best as they represent the league in the post season.
"Both the LeMars are arguably the two best players in the league," said Niagara-Wheatfield coach Dan Krolewski. "Both are tremendous singles players and as doubles partners, they have good hands and volley real well. They're smart and their year-long practice really helps prepare them for the season. All us coaches in the NFL are hoping they'll make the NFL proud come sectionals."Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @TonaNewsSports.