By Robert Wilson
Walker Ellis made history April 30 becoming the second player in Madison Central history to win two MHSAA boys singles state championships during his career. Only Brian Bankester in 2003 and 2004 accomplished the feat at the school, which opened in 1991.
Ellis, a Mississippi College signee, won his first Class 6A state boys singles title as a sophomore in 2019 when he defeated Tupelo’s Eric Huey after splitting matches with him during the regular season. Ellis avenged his only loss of the season with the win in the championship match. Because of COVID, there wasn’t a state tournament last year. Ellis went undefeated this season and defeated Germantown’s Wallace Brewer in the 6A state title match.
“Walker is the type of player every coach dreams of,” Madison Central coach Brad Boteler said. “You might only get two or three like him in a coaching career. Walker’s combination of talent, drive, leadership and willingness to sacrifice for the team is unparalleled. He was like having an extra coach on court this year. Walker really elevated his teammates so much on and off court. He encouraged them and made sure everything we did during matches and practice had focus and intensity.”
Ellis also played doubles to help Madison Central win its third straight Class 6A team championship prior to the individual state tournament, defeating Ocean Springs 5-1 in the title match.
“Walker sacrificed for the team,” Boteler said. “He was willing to play anywhere that we needed him in the lineup. Sometimes your best singles player is only comfortable playing singles. Since we had other strong singles players, Walker knew that we needed him at doubles. He excelled on the doubles court. So many are used to seeing Walker play singles that they forget what a dominant doubles player he is.
“Off the court Walker was just as special. He encouraged others to step up and be leaders and that will have a lasting impact on the team for years to come.”
“I just wanted to play where they needed me and winning the team championship was the ultimate goal,” Ellis said. “We had some talented singles players who we were confident about putting them against other teams, so we thought it was the best play to strengthen our doubles teams since that’s where other teams had solid players. I wanted to do what was best for the team.”
Ellis started working with Reunion director of tennis Justyn Schelver while in middle school.
“I started working with Walker when he was 12 and he was figuring out whether he wanted to play baseball and other sports and he decided he wanted to concentrate on tennis,” Schelver said. “Walker is a good listener and is receptive to teaching and is engaged in what you are telling him. He’s a good student of the game. It’s difficult be a great college player unless you start very young and work at it consistently, but Walker has made great strides. He decided during COVID that he would pin his ears back and get serious about tennis. We worked four hours a day four days a week for about the next six months and he made a jump. I believe he will continue to improve at Mississippi College and play with guys of his similar ability every day and take advantage of it.”
“It was a really good time for me,” Ellis said. “There wasn’t much else to do, and it was a good time for me to focus on my game and that’s when I was playing some of my best tennis. Justyn and I and some other guys went to a house since everywhere was closed and we would hit for four-to-five hours a day.”
Ellis is rated No. 28 in the South and No. 180 in the nation in the boys singles 18 and under division by the USTA. He is rated as the No. 2 recruit in Mississippi, No. 98 in the South and No. 321 in the nation by the Tennis Recruiting Network.
Ellis’ college tennis career will be at Mississippi College this fall where Boteler’s father, David, is the long-time tennis coach. David will start his 24th season at MC next fall. Walker’s dad, Harvey, played in David’s first team at MC in the 1980s.
“I’m excited to get the top guy in Mississippi,” David Boteler said. “Walker is a great kid. He has a great mental attitude. Walker continues to improve every year. He loves to play and compete. Walker has a great kick serve and solid groundstrokes. He will continue to improve as he plays with our team and against great players every day.”
Even though there was some Division I schools interested in Ellis, he chose Division II MC.
“Mississippi College was my best overall option,” Walker Ellis said. “I know some of the players and have known Coach Boteler for a while. I wanted to stay in the state as well.”
Ellis said he will be playing in UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) tournaments this summer, playing against college guys to get ready for his freshmen collegiate season.