Okemos Tennis Star Josh Portnoy Closes Prep Career In Style With State Titles
Portnoy Has Signed With Michigan State Tennis; Fulfilling Dream to Play For the Spartans and Be Close to Home.
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Okemos High School tennis star Josh Portnoy knew he wanted to play college tennis, but also wanted to stay close to home.
Portnoy, a senior, just won the Michigan Division No. 1 singles crown, and helped the Chieftains win the state championship. He finished high school tennis career with two individual state titles, All-State honors, and a legacy of one of the best players in Michigan right now.
Portnoy had a lot of scholarship options for playing tennis in college, but only one fit what he wanted: Michigan State.
“It was a safe decision to be close to home,” said Portnoy. “Especially with all this COVID stuff going on.”
Portnoy, however, doesn’t want to stay local solely because of the worldwide pandemic, but also for his love for growing up as a Spartans fan.
“I always wanted to go to MSU too,” said Portnoy. “I would always go to matches when I was younger.”
Portnoy’s relationship with the coaching staff also made his decision easier. Being a player in the Lansing area means he has been around MSU tennis, and its coaches, in informal ways throughout his life.
“I’ve known Coach (Gene) Orlando and Harry (Jadun) since I was a little kid, so I have that strong bond with them,” said Portnoy. “I’ve got to visit a few times, so I’ve got to know a lot of the team. I actually played with most of them.”
Max Sheldon, another new commit to Michigan State, also made the recruitment process easier for Portnoy. Sheldon, a native of Arlington Heights, Illinois, is ranked as one of the top 30 players in the country.
“I’m really close with Max,” said Portnoy. “Him and I have been talking a lot more recently and I’m definitely pretty close with him.”
Portnoy had plenty of other offers from schools that showed interest in him along with Michigan State, including Dartmouth and George Washington being in his final three.
Portnoy said that what made his recruitment process so exciting, was being able to finally make his decision.
“You know after all that hard work and dedication, you finally know you’ll be able to play college tennis,” said Portnoy. “That’s what made it feel real.”
He credits his prep success to his teammates, as Okemos’ tennis roster was loaded with high-level talent. Including one with the last name of Portnoy.
His younger brother Ethan, the only freshman on varsity, plays alongside him. Ethan claims he is already better than his older brother, based on his drilling and playing experience.
“We hit and serve a ton,” said Ethan said. “We play practice matches sometimes too.”
Portnoy hopes to be a mentor for his younger brother, showing him the college tennis life. Ethan may someday follow in his older brother's footsteps in playing at the next level.
The opportunity for Ethan to play alongside his brother is something that was special this season.
“It’s such a great experience,” said Ethan, who earned All-State honors for his doubles play. “I mean I’m playing with my brother, who I’ve looked up to my whole tennis career. Watching him play and being able to play with him is pretty cool.”
Portnoy, one of Okemos’ captains this year, is the only Chieftain signed to play Division I. He typically played against the other school’s top players. This past year, he’s had matches with four-star Ball State commit Nathaniel Webster (Kalamazoo Mattawan) and five-star Boston University commit Gabe Brown (Troy Athens). Portnoy defeated Brown, 6-1, 6-1, to win the state No. 1 singles title. Brown had beaten Portnoy during the regular season – Portnoy’s only loss of the season.
Portnoy understands the jump from high school to college tennis will demand more from his game and conditioning. He chose not to play in the 2019 high school season to play more USTA tournaments, showing him higher levels of players from around the country.
“One thing I need to do is get more fit,” said Portnoy who stands 5-foot-7 and is a lefty. “I would say I need to also work on my mental game. I think I have a lot of the skills, but I want to work on the mental aspect of it.”