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Valencia's J.R. Macalutas: Chasing perfection

For Vikings senior, he can always get better

Posted: March 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Valencia High senior J.R. Macalutas has been on varsity ever since he was a freshman, learning from the program’s recent standouts and striving to improve his own game.

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It’s a constant battle for J.R. Macalutas.

A nonstop challenge.

A neverending pursuit.

The Valencia High senior is still working toward hitting the perfect serve and playing the perfect match.

But Macalutas knows perfection is simply a decoy. It’s merely motivation to keep moving forward.

“Tennis, in general, there’s always room for improvement,” Macalutas says. “You can never be your best. There’s always something you can do better.”

It probably explains why he’s gotten so much better trough the course of his high school career.

Though Macalutas has played varsity tennis since his freshman year at Valencia, he hasn’t always been as dominant as he is now.

He rotated in as a doubles player at first, and moved up to singles as a sophomore.

He’s been Valencia’s top singles player since the beginning of last year and is the consensus best player in the Foothill League, according to the league’s coaches.

It’s a safe bet, considering Macalutas won the Foothill League singles championship two years ago and was a member of the championship doubles team last year.

“He’s the kind of guy who’s going to give you his best effort,” says Valencia head coach Annie Kellogg. “Sometimes his confidence is better than other days, but you know he really, truly wants to improve.”

Macalutas attributes his progress to the Valencia tennis program as a whole.

He’s had the chance to team up with players like Tyler Gottshall and Ben Inchalik, a pair of Valencia graduates who have gone on to play in college.

Former players have inspired Macalutas and have made him into a more focused and serious player.

It’s also made him a more focused person as a whole.

The senior says his exponential improvement with his academics is directly related to the skills he’s gained playing tennis.

On top of that, he’s in better physical shape than he’s ever been in his career and, more importantly, his mental toughness is as strong as ever.

“That’s from experience,” Macalutas says. “In tennis, you have a keep a good poker face to win. Even if you feel bad, you can’t let your opponents see your weaknesses. It’s a huge mental game.”

And after four years, the tables have turned.

Now Macalutas is the one being looked up to.

“He’s been an inspiration in my life,” says teammate and co-captain Ronit Ghosh. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have started tennis without watching him play because I really enjoyed watching him.”

Before the start of every match, Macalutas helps Ghosh write a pump-up speech that he later delivers to the team.

While Ghosh happily takes on the role of vocal leader, most of Macalutas’ influence on his teammates is done with action.

“His shots are great, that’s for sure, but I like his mental game because a lot of players, especially in singles, really get mad at themselves while they’re playing,” Ghosh says. “But J.R., when he misses a shot, he just keeps going.”

Macalutas hardly ever gets fazed, even against top-level competition.

Valencia often faces some of the toughest tennis teams in Southern California during preleague play, which naturally puts Macalutas against the best singles players.

The left-handed hitter is finding that he’s getting closer and closer to matching that elite level of play.

“Before, I’d be tired before the second game because all the top players, they don’t miss,” Macalutas says. “They can just rally all day. Now I can just keep my focus and I can hit every shot the same.”

Then again, improving his own status as a player or moving into the United State Tennis Association rankings isn’t of paramount concern for the senior.

He wants to win every set to help his team more than anything.

“You couldn’t want somebody better to represent your school as far as his sportsmanship and his demeanor,” Kellogg says. “He’s definitely the Pete Sampras, Roger Federer type (of player) and not the John McEnroe type.”

In many ways, Macalutas is the quintessential Valencia tennis player. He’s easygoing, likable and always says the right things, yet he’s a fierce competitor on the court.

And so he keeps going. He keeps practicing. He keeps chasing perfection.

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