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The secret to Meriden’s tennis success? It’s more than a strong serve

Head Coach Ross Anton with 2020 Tildesley Champions, Samantha Lavers, Subeksha Suren Raj and Indiya McLeod

Last weekend, Meriden Tennis Team brought home their eleventh consecutive title at the Tildesley Shield Tennis Tournament. It is another trophy in the cabinet for the School’s Tennis Academy under the steady hand of Head Coach Ross Anton. Coach Ross is best-known in Sydney tennis circles for getting the best out of every player and while the School nurtures some of Australia’s most promising tennis talent, Coach Ross insists that on-court skill alone is not what makes Meriden Tennis Academy, or its players, successful.

“Tennis, sport in general, doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Coach Ross said. “Players bring their personalities, their learning styles, their personal experiences, their emotional health to the court. The Academy is a place where students are valued first as individuals, where they are cared for by the staff and by their peers and where they learn how to hit a great backhand but also how to cope with challenges, how to maintain focus and motivation and how to learn from mistakes,” Coach Ross said.

“We instil in the girls the idea that we are working to see progress, not perfection, and we see them evolve in their tennis and in their strength of character all the time.”

Meriden Principal, Dr Julie Greenhalgh, said Coach Ross cultivates solidarity in the School’s Tennis team as a priority.

“Coach Ross’ ability to take what is essentially an individual sport and turn it into a team one is really the secret to the Academy’s success,” she said.

“The girls thrive when they are shown that they can, and should, build each other up, even while they are competing against each other. The support they give to their teammates comes back around when they need it.”

The Tildesley Shield Tennis Tournament is a case in point for the strength of this approach to sport. The Shield is awarded to the school with the highest point average, so the performance of every player contributes to their team’s overall score and the grand prize doesn’t necessarily go to the school whose players win the singles or doubles finals.

“Part of the strength of our team lies with our senior students, who take on the role of mentors and confidantes to the younger girls because they have experienced the highs and lows of sport and they know how it feels to be a teenager with many competing priorities,” Dr Greenhalgh said.

Year 10 student, Indiya McLeod, was awarded Tildesley Singles Champion 2020 after defeating fellow Meriden player, Sarah Rokusek, in the finals. After her semi-final and final matches, Indiya called her closest supporters, who could not be in attendance due to coronavirus restrictions.

“One of the first calls I made was to our Tennis Captain, Maddie Whip,” Indiya said.

“I know that Maddie always wants the best for me and she supports me no-matter what so I really wanted to let her know how I went in those matches because she’s a big part of my tennis journey. She’s been through what I’m going through and she understands what I need to do to be successful at school and with tennis.”

“Everyone in the Tennis Academy is really close and, for us, it’s not about the individual, it’s about the team. We are all grateful to our coaches – they help raise us – they make sure that our sport education is not just about tennis: they make sure we’re polite, that we’re always on time, that we have the skills we need to live in the world,” Indiya said.

Of course, the tight-knit nature of the Meriden players is only one part of their performance. Coach Ross said Meriden Tennis players work hard in the gym and on the court with consistency and purpose.

“Our players are training throughout the year, rain or shine, competition or no competition,” he said.

“Coaching staff have worked to help the girls find their intrinsic motivation, their drive to succeed. This foundation served them well and it saw them continue training while the school was in distance learning mode in Term 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The girls were fortunate to have access to online training sessions designed by our coaching staff but, in the end, they were the ones who had to go outside and put in the hard yards.”

Meriden Tennis Academy has produced some of the country’s most successful tennis players and its athletes are frequently offered sporting scholarships at American universities, where they dive into the highly competitive world of NCAA sport following the HSC. Some students who have undertaken this journey recently include Olivia Huang, class of 2019, at Grand Valley State University in Michigan; Violet Apisah, class of 2018, at Texas Tech University and Michaela Haet, class of 2016, at Rice University, Texas. Meriden players have qualified for, and won, ISF World Championships and have consistently won IGSSA Division 1 Tennis since 2014.

It would be an oversimplification to suggest that any single factor is responsible for the success of the Meriden Tennis Academy students. However, Coach Ross continues to be the stabilising presence that balances the physical, emotional and mental needs of young people in the sport. Meriden is proud of the fact that all its Tennis Academy students graduate with the School’s uncompromising values of sportsmanship, commitment and generosity of spirit.

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