Juniors Share the Value of Teamwork
As a high school senior, Leila Antony is preparing for her college career. Already she's stepping into the world with several impressive achievements at her back, including one she earned with her Central Indiana teammates over the weekend. On Sunday, the team became sectional champions of the Junior World Team Tennis USTA Midwest Section Qualifier.
The four seniors, Leila, Lucy Loy, Emma Brune and Jones McNamar, and two juniors, Eli Mercer and Aidan William are headed to Nationals taking place this summer in Lake Nona, Florida at the USTA National Campus. It'll be their last competition all together before the seniors age out of the 18 and under team.
That they made it this far is no small accomplishment.
This was Central Indiana's fourth year in a row to play at the Midwest Section Qualifier, and any coach will tell you, the first year they competed, they were crushed.
So how did they come out on top three years later? And during the Covid-19 pandemic – a tragic world event which no doubt affected their schoolwork and training like it did every other student-athlete around the world. Out of 630 games to win at the sectional tournament, Central Indiana had the most victories at 171. In second place was Northern Illinois with 153. The way this tournament worked – a player didn't have to win their overall match. Even if they lost, they could still benefit the team with every game they won, which were tallied and contributed to the team's total score.
Placing first at sectionals was no surprise to Central Indiana's Executive Director, Judy Tilmont. She's been watching those six kids improve each year – and not just their individual skill, but their talent as a team.
The players themselves got better and better – certainly by their own accord, but Leila, Lucy, Emma, Jones, Eli and Aidan all understand that it's strong teamwork that translates into success.
"I learned how important it is to work together and support each other," Leila said, ahead of the weekend. "Whether the support looks like sitting on a teammate's court, clapping after a good point, or cheering let’s go, it can help motivate your team."
For most of the players, their history stretches back much farther than team tournaments. Some of them have played together longer than half their lives – since they were six, seven, eight years old, swinging their racquets at clinics.
Their paths merged a little more permanently when the kids started playing in the 14 and under Junior World Team Tennis age division. Over the years parents have coached the team – forming their own lasting friendships after years of sitting next to each other on the sidelines. Now those parents travel together from school to school, rooting on their USTA team members at Carmel, Fishers, and West Lafayette high schools – each season was filled with its own proud moments.
Jones McNamar was Carmel High School's doubles champion both this year and last with two different partners, and his positive attitude on and off the courts earned him the 2019 Wilbur Schumacher Junior Sportsmanship Memorial Award.
If the doubles high school superstar and Central Indiana's team success isn't proof enough that friendship and unwavering support plays an important role in building a player's confidence, then you need only ask one.
"You need to be positive and encouraging in order to succeed," said Eli Mercer, one of the two juniors who will be sad to see his teammates go this year.
Of the four leaving for college, Lucy Loy will play D1 tennis at the University of Nebraska, one of the Big Ten Schools, and Jones McNamar signed with Marian University in the fall.
More than a decade of playing together has taught them what it means to put your best foot forward, and to work with those around you to achieve a common goal.
Leila Antony is looking forward to playing on Indiana University's club tennis team and hopes to travel with them.
"My goal is to improve a little every practice and continue to keep up with my skills," she said, and Leila will never be alone. Her Central Indiana teammates and coaches are rooting for her. Just like the USTA/Midwest Section wishes all of our 2021 graduates the best.
Good luck to Central Indiana at Nationals June 29 - July 1.
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