Ahead of the Game

Ahead+of+the+Game

Second set. Five to zero. Match point. 

As she prepared to receive her opponent’s serve, freshman Eva Kading took a deep breath. Clenching her upset stomach, she tuned out her thoughts. If she lost this point, she would lose her regionals match and not advance to state. The crowd around her quieted as the green ball flew towards her. She swung her racket, and the ball darted over the net, right past her opponent. 

A smile spread across her face as she looked over at the stands and saw her five varsity teammates cheering. She was back in the match. With a chance to win.

Kading’s experience participating in tennis tournaments year-round prepared her for this moment. From playing six hour matches in the July heat, to ignoring rude comments from opponents, she was prepared for anything the high school season had to offer.

“My experience helps me with harder matches,” Kading said. “Tennis is really mental so I used a lot of that.”

After losing three of the top six varsity players the previous year, head coach Andrew Gibbs was faced with a challenge — find three girls to fit into the three empty sports and place at state. 

Those girls ended up being senior Lidia Ragland, freshmen Bridget Epstein and Kading. 

These six girls all had previous experience in high-level tournaments. 

“I think there’s a lot to be said for players who have experience competing in pressure situations,” Gibbs said. “The more matches you play, the better you get at competing in those situations.”

High school tennis brought a new level of pressure the girls had to be prepared for. It was different from the leagues they played in during the year. They weren’t just competing for themselves or East — they were competing for their teammates. 

“A high school state tournament is a different kind of experience because you have the added pressure, responsibility and challenge of playing for your team too,” Gibbs said. “You have to be able to mentally bounce back to still play well.”

This proved to be true with the group of girls. From smiling and shaking their opponents’ hands, even after tough losses, to not bragging after winning, they knew what to do. 

“You can see when they step on the court that they have a confidence in knowing how to win matches,” Gibbs said. “That makes a big difference.”

Third set. Five to zero. Match point.

Kading prepared to serve. Holding in a grin, she tried to keep her focus. If she won this point, she would win her regionals match and advance to state. She swung her racket and her opponent hit it back. After a long rally, Kading hit a perfect shot, right down the centerline.

She looked to her teammates and coaches on the side of the court. She couldn’t believe what had happened. Her experience had prepared her to keep her composure and finish on top in the most important match of her season.

She won.