Senior night honors tennis team’s achievements

Liberty Harrison, Editor in Chief

Top left to right: Harleen Pannu, Anoushka Aggarawal, Sneha Mehta, Cora Wildman, Vivian Lun, Jocelyn Ortiz, Laysha Ricci, Lindsey Ricci, Charlotte Edmonds. Bottom left to right: Leina Young, Sachi Kataria, Amanda Haug. Photo courtesy of Laysha Ricci.

Celebrating a year of growth, community, and hard work, our girls varsity tennis team honored its seniors during a transition from singles to doubles on the afternoon of April 20. However, the work of the team goes far beyond one afternoon. This year has been standout as the first normal year for tennis since the pandemic’s shutdown, bringing unique challenges and plentiful opportunities for achievement.

Kate Putt, the girls’ tennis coach and an avid tennis player herself, has worked to support her team in learning, perfecting, and dealing with the balancing act between school and tennis, one that is particularly difficult for seniors. 

“Seniors have a lot going on [during spring sports season]. Tennis starts back at the end of February, when everybody’s still for the most part waiting on some college acceptances and things can be a little tedious for them as they’re trying to navigate their choices and make decisions about their future,” Putt said.

The spring season itself, with variable temperatures and frequent storms, can also pose difficulties to practice.

“It tends to stay colder longer than you hope and it can be pretty windy which isn’t ideal for young tennis players, as anytime the ball goes up in the air it’s going to catch in the wind and that’s going to change its trajectory,” Putt said. 

Every practice follows a schedule of warm up, practicing serves, and scrimmages. Due to the time constraints and sharing the tennis courts with our boys tennis team, practice can run into hurdles that make it difficult to practice all the skills required. 

Practice can also be challenging to organize because of the vastly differing skill levels of the team.

“Probably the largest challenge of coaching high school girls tennis is because you have some very skilled players and you have some players who are clearly new to the game who need a lot of skill development,” said Putt, who found a work around to this problem by pairing her team by skill level in practice and encouraging the newer players to learn through practical application and observation of more experience players. 

But through it all Putt has seen the team make great progress over the year In fact, seeing the growth in her players has made some of her favorite memories of the season. 

“I have watched a couple of players struggle this year. It was frustrating to me to watch them struggle and I’m sure it was very frustrating for them and trying to figure out what it was that they needed in order to get back to the same form they had last year,” Putt said. “So when two particular players that I can think of got over that hump and won that first match, it made me feel good to know that it would help to rebuild their confidence.”

Much of this growth has been from the diverse group of seniors, in play style, experience, and personality that have made up the team this year.

Senior night celebrated each of them and their accomplishments throughout the year, highlighting what each girl brings to the team.

Harleen Pannu is one of the co-captains on the team and the longest playing senior, having spent all four years on the team, but in her words has been playing “pretty much [her] entire life.”

From informal teaching from her dad to playing seriously her freshman year of high school, Pannu not only values the sport but the team bonds she has formed through playing. 

Her favorite memories of her time on the team are “hanging out with the team after practice, goofing off, eating food, and having fun.” But she also loves the game itself. “It’s really satisfying, hitting the ball,” Pannu said. “When I hit a really good forehand and the opponent can’t get back or when I hit aces on my serve.”

The game has also helped Pannu with her self growth.

“Playing tennis has helped me become mentally stronger, because it’s a single person game, so you’re just out there on the court by yourself, you have to think through the game by yourself, so it’s a mentally tough game,” Pannu said. “Pushing through that to be able to up my game has helped me to become a mentally stronger person both in tennis and outside of tennis.”

This year has been a testament to that growth, which stems from Pannu’s biggest weakness in the game. “I struggle a lot with the mental aspect of it. I get really panicky, a lot of anxiety, and that diminishes my performance when I’m playing but over the years I’ve been able to work through it and I’ve risen through the ranks of the tennis team,” Pannu said.

Putt also acknowledged Pannu’s struggles, and her overcoming her fears to succeed on the court, especially as Putt said, “Harleen has a really strong game. She has great ground stroke, really good top spin. Nice serve.” Putt said that without fear holding Pannu back her skill level has been able to shine through.

Laysha Ricci has been on the tennis team for three years, sophomore to senior, and is known not only for her strong game but kindness that brings the team together.

Through these years Ricci has observed her own improvement. “I’ve definitely gotten better, and a lot more confident in my playing skills, which has helped my playing game overall,” Ricci said. 

This year posed a particular challenge in its start.

“I was very down on myself when I started doing bad in the beginning of the season,” Ricci said. “I had new opponents that I wasn’t sure how to play and it was a real challenge and I was really stubborn minded trying to continue what I had been doing for the last years before I realized I had to make a change.”

The variety of the game has in fact proven to be one of Ricci’s favorite parts. “I really like how it’s one on one but still has teamwork, for example the variety between doubles and singles,” Ricci said. “There’s a lot of different strategies to use while playing too, which I find very interesting, especially in how I can make them work for me.”

Ricci has also brought continuous unity to the team in her attitude, no matter her performance on the court.

“Laysha is one of the kindest, friendliest, most easy going people you’ll ever meet,” Putt said. “She always approaches everything with a kind of calm and tries her very best every time she’s out there.”

Leina Young is the newest member of the team and has made progress from beginning with almost no background in the sport. 

“We brought her on because she had a really good attitude and she seemed to really want to be part of the team,” Putt said.

With this attitude Young has improved in her abilities, as much through her intrinsic motivation to support the team as her appreciation of the sport itself.

“It seemed like fun and I really wanted to have a team sport in high school,” Young said. While never playing tennis before, Young reminisced about playing badminton with her dad as a child, applying the same concepts to her beginnings in the sport.

While Young enjoyed being on the team, starting with such little experience had its drawbacks as she admitted some of her least favorite memories came from watching others playing at a level she wished she could reach sooner, in order to participate more. 

As an individual, Young’s improvement has developed immensely over the season, as Putt said she has evolved a strong foundation of the sport, with her strokes, rallies, and general understanding all strengthening.

“From a personal perspective, I’ve improved,” Young said about her improvement, acknowledging she still has a way to go to reach the level of some other members of the team, but emphasizing the importance of the journey, and the memories she’s made along the way, her foundational reason for joining the team.

“Bus rides, karaoke, snacks, being a team, karaoke,” Young said about her favorite memories.