Discovering West Salem Girls Tennis

Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Serena and Venus Williams, and Karolína Plíšková are some of the best players on the globe in women’s tennis, putting their lives into a game that they train and compete in so passionately. Osaka is the first Asian player to ever be ranked #1 in the world and has a powerful serve that can reach 125 MPH, the Williams sisters are the most successful sisters in women’s tennis history, and Barty is the current top-ranked player on the globe. All of these women has etched their names in history in some way or form within the world of women’s tennis.

While the young women competing at West Salem High School might not be any of the previously mentioned athletes, they still have their own share of stories in their tennis journeys, and a lot of diverse experiences at that. With the help of Coach Tim Ehlers, Elite Oregon Girls had the opportunity to talk with Elizabeth Harvey, Katelyn Nadeau, Anna Emerson, and Taylar Kelly, four of the many young women that make up West Salem tennis. The girls got personal with Elite Oregon Girls, digging into their tennis backgrounds, West Salem experiences, their inspirations, and more….

How It All Began

Every player has their own journey in sports, whether its marred in adversity or if its peppered with success, each journey is unique in its own aspects. For Anna Emerson, tennis is a family tradition, with both of her parents and her brother being part of the tennis world. “I started playing because my whole family does,” Emerson said, “but I didn’t get very serious until the time leading up to high school seasons.” Elizabeth Harvey started thanks to a friendship, ” I started playing tennis in middle school. One of my good friends at the time invited me to go
with her to her lessons, and I continued to go to lessons from that point on.”

Unlike their colleagues, Katelyn Nadeau and Taylar Kelly started playing later on in their youth. Nadeau started taking lessons at thirteen, but just started competing competitively last season. Nadeau looked at it from a medical standpoint, “I needed a sport where I was less likely to get a concussion,” Nadeau explained, “and I thought it looked like a lot of fun to play throughout my life and in high school.” Kelly’s adventure to tennis is a bit more bizarre, but it sounds like a story straight from a high school student, “My best friend told me I should try out for tennis just for fun with her and so I did,” Kelly said, “but the week before tryouts she decided she didn’t want to do it anymore and I considered not showing up either. I did though, and I’m so glad that I did.”

Credit: Tim Ehlers

In sports, most athletes start the sport because there is something that attracted them to it and keeps them competing in it. You also learn lessons when you start playing sports, and for Nadeau, she learned that tennis is a complex sport, “The first thing I learned about tennis is that it is much more complicated than it seems,” Nadeau said, “but I played on a summer team with Anna Emerson and playing against people with a lot more experience gave me the most opportunity to grow.” Anna Emerson, Taylar Kelly, and Elizabeth Harvey quickly learned that tennis is a mental game, “I had to learn how to be calm and collected to be successful,” according to Emerson. For Kelly, “It’s completely a mental game and I couldn’t get in my head if I fell a point of game behind, because there was time for me to be able to catch up and persevere through.” As for Harvey, “Tennis is a really mental sport, especially in singles. It’s important to not be so tough on yourself and criticize every mistake or imperfect shot you make, it just brings down your game as a whole.”

The Lady Titans Experience

West Salem is known for their academic and athletics excellence, sharing the Salem plateau with rival Sprague. West Salem Girls Tennis continues their rebuilding process, as the team failed to send any players to the state tournament last season, and didn’t have enough participants to field a JV squad. However, in the light of these downs, Elizabeth Harvey, Taylar Kelly, Anna Emerson, and Katelyn Nadeau have been working on their craft in helps of boosting the team forward in 2020. With the season on hiatus, Kelly has been practicing at home in hopes of pursuing her goals, “I’m stuck at home so I’ve been hitting against my garage, practicing my serving toss, and hitting my bed so I can improve my backhand and forehand swings.” She elaborated with her goals for the 2020 season, “My goals for this season was to make my serves more consistent and put a lot more spin on it, because last season I had a lot of power and speed on my serve, but I needed my first serve to be more consistent.”

Credit: Tim Ehlers

Elizabeth Harvey has been hitting tennis five days a week since the end of last season, “I have been improving my ground strokes and serves, making them as strong as they have ever been. I have been learning about new strategies I can use, and I have been focusing on my placement rather than my power, because my power comes naturally.” As for Harvey’s goals, “Each year, I set a goal for myself to make it further in the districts bracket than I did the previous year. This year, if any kind of district play happens, I feel like I will have a much better shot at making it to the finals because I transitioned to singles this year from doubles.”

After spending the summer together on a U.S. Tennis Association team, Katelyn Nadeau and Anna Emerson have been tuning in for the 2020 season, as Emerson has been hitting it harder with matches, “Since last season, I have been practicing a lot more at Salem Tennis and Swim Club, just trying to play practice matches to be more experienced. My goals for this season are to grow as a singles player and hopefully go further in districts.” Nadeau has been optimistic entering Year 2 in tennis, “I’ve been working a lot on footwork, conditioning, and overall court awareness. Last year was my first year playing, so I’m taking everything I learned and combining it with my training to start the season as strong as possible. My goal for this season is to make it to Semis at districts!”

Every team is uniquely designed, with each member aligning themselves in a part that makes a team who they are. Harvey, Nadeau, Emmerson, and Kelly discussed their favorite memories and things about their squad, while also giving an insider look into some of the team personalities. Taylar Kelly says that her favorite memory was last season during a trip back from Sheldon High School in Eugene, “That was the moment that we all came together and really bonded as a team. Even though we lost, on the ride home we were able to forget that and enjoy the time that we had together as a team, and that is why I’m proud to call myself a Lady Titan.” For why Kelly says she loves her team, ” For this season, I was really excited to meet new girls and help those who were new to the sport, because unfortunately last season we didn’t have a JV team. Sadly with recent events, tennis hasn’t been able to continue as normal, but my team and I are still keeping in touch with one another and getting out on the courts, and this is why I love my team so much.”

Credit: Tim Ehlers

Nadeau touches on the trips to games in her favorite memories as a Lady Titan, “I love that my team can always stay positive, even after a loss. We all have unique traits about us that make us work well together,” Nadeau said, “The bus trips are some of my favorite memories! I remember traveling to South like three times because we kept getting rained out when we arrived. We still had fun and stayed positive! Although our season won’t be the same, I’m super proud of our work in the off season and I have no doubt we’ll come back strong next year.” Senior Elizabeth Harvey dipped into her freshman and sophomore experiences, “My favorite memories playing Titan Tennis are from my sophomore year. We had an amazing coach who brought us all together as a team and as friends. I also really enjoyed my freshman season; I was one of two freshman that made varsity, and I beat out some upperclassmen! It was rewarding to see that my hard work and practice was paying off, and top it off with the fact we won districts that year as well.”

Anna Emerson displayed a similarly upbeat tone when talking about her favorite memories, “My favorite memories from last season were when we travel to matches, especially districts last year,” Emmerson told me, “they were Bend so we got to travel as a team and stay together and we made a lot of great memories! Even though this season is a little different, I think we will move past it will and come out of this time stronger!” As for team personalities, Emerson pointed to teammates Elizabeth Harvey and Sophie McConnell, “I’d say the most competitive person on the team is Elizabeth Harvey, and the most relaxed is Sophie McConnell.” Nadeau agreed with Emerson, “Elizabeth is probably the most competitive, Anna has the most spirit, and Miranda is always super chill! It’s fun to see how their personalities shine through during matches.”

Taylar Kelly gave me an encyclopedia of insight into the team personalities, “I would say we’re all fairly very competitive. Not necessarily with each other or other teams, but mainly with ourselves, because all of us want to play better than we did the match before. I’ve been told multiple times by my doubles partner and other people on the team that I’m quite fiery for being the small person that I am. One of my friends on the team, Annika Johnson, always tells me it’s really funny to watch me when I get mad at myself, because I’ll quite literally yell at myself. Katie Nadeau is probably one of the sweetest and most laid back people that I know. She is very competitive with herself, but she is so kind hearted and is always checking in with people and reassuring people if they just lost a match, that they played amazing. Honestly, everyone on the team is amazing and I love that they’re my teammates, because all of them are so caring and we all push each other, and that’s what makes us better players each day.”

Credit: Tim Ehlers

Senior Elizabeth Harvey puts the icing on the cake, “The most competitive people on the team are me and Anna Emerson. I think the most fiery person on our team is Sophie McConnell because she has a great sense of humor and can brighten up any mood. Someone on our frame that I admire is Katie Nadeau. Last year, she played the first singles spot, and no matter how the score turned out, she always came out of it with a smile and great attitude, and she learned from that match to better herself for the next one. She is truly a great example of sportsmanship and always keeping a great attitude.”

The Circle of Inspiration

Growing up, we have role models that we look to for guidance and inspiration. For these Lady Titans, they are no exception to that role, and they were happy to talk about their role models and inspiration. For Elizabeth Harvey, it was one of her high school coaches: “My coach sophomore year, Sean Smith, is the most inspiring to me in regards to tennis. He taught me that winning isn’t everything, and he put me in situations that were out of my comfort zone. At the time I didn’t understand why. Looking back, those situations helped me grow as an athlete and as a leader. We have had a new coach every year for the past four years, and as difficult as it is, it helps me stay on track and to not become lazy.” Taylar Kelly went a bit closer to home with hers, “I’d truly say my mom has been the most inspirational for me as an athlete, because in high school she played all kinds of sports including: softball, basketball, volleyball, and track and field. So, it’s fair to say that I got my competitiveness and athleticism from her. Something that she has always told me that has stuck with me, is when I lose, I can’t be mad at anyone other than myself, and that if I wanted to win next time I needed to work even harder than I did before,” Kelly explained, “and even though my mom pushes me to be the best player that I can be, she always reassures me that she is proud of me and I always know that I can count on her to be there and cheer and support me.”

Credit: Tim Ehlers

Anna Emerson and Katelyn Nadeau went to the Olympic ranks for their inspirations, pulling out a volleyball legend and a soccer star. “She doesn’t play tennis, but I’ve always been inspired by Misty May-Treanor,” Nadeau told me, “She’s a volleyball player that has paved the way for young girls aspiring to become the top of their sport. She’s a phenomenal player, but what stands out the most to me is her work ethic and kindness towards both teammates and opponents.” Emerson pulled out U.S. Women’s National Team and Portland Thorns player Allie Long, “One of my biggest inspirations as an athlete is Allie Long on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. I’ve looked up to her since I was little watching her play for the Thorns, and although she doesn’t play tennis, she always inspired me to keep working harder in soccer and tennis because of her great work ethic.”

Finally, as high school athletes, they serve a role as being role models for the youth that watch them play on the court. The girls offered their own token of advice for the younger players in the community, drawing from their own experiences to provide the advice. Taylar Kelly dug into her own regret for hers, “I wish I would’ve started playing tennis sooner than I did, but unfortunately I didn’t, but for girls who are playing at a young age I would say stick with it. This is because tennis is the kind of sport that you can play your entire life, and you’ll only continue to make improvements as you get older. Also, I would say when you’re frustrated, to just breathe and not get all worked up, because you need to remember tennis is a mental game and the second you get in your head, is when you’ll begin to lose your game. You can’t expect to become the next Serena Williams, you have to work as hard or even harder than her to become a great tennis player. Finally, I would tell young girls that you have so much time to make improvements and if you find yourself wanting to quit, think about all the hard work you’ve put into the sport and use that to motivate you to continue and persevere through.”

Credit: Tim Ehlers

Anna Emerson offers some humbling advice, “One piece of advice I would give young girls learning the sport is don’t be afraid to make mistakes and take risks…learn from them! Taking risks is so important in sports and you learn the most from mistakes, so you just need to not be afraid to take the risk. One example in tennis is when you miss your first serve and instead of taking power off to ensure the second serve, you take the risk and hit a powerful serve again. Sometimes it doesn’t work but when it does it pays off for sure.” Katelyn Nadeau puts out some advice from her first season, “Be willing to put it all out on the court! I haven’t been playing my whole life, so I don’t have years of experience or muscle memory to rely on. Both in life and in tennis, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be technically better than your opponent—but you can always make sure you’re the hardest worker. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing a match is just hitting one more ball in.”

Senior Captain Elizabeth Harvey gives her experienced advice to the youth, “Some advice that I would give to anyone interested in playing tennis is to not quit just because you may not be the best at something. I quit playing club volleyball for many reasons, but one was that I felt I could never be as good as someone else. If you really are passionate about the sport, you will find the time to put in work and effort to improve yourself to be as skilled and talented as you could dream of. My passion is tennis and my work has paid off well for me. I have been co-captain of the tennis team for the past two years, and I have been so fortunate to help others with little tips or suggestions. I love being a leader, it’s something I enjoy doing and that I hope to always do.”

Credit: Tim Ehlers

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