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La Jolla prep tennis players adapt to new coed season

La Jolla Country Day School tennis player Sydney Helfand
“I like playing mixed doubles because we get to face different types of players we wouldn’t experience in a normal season,” says La Jolla Country Day School tennis player Sydney Helfand.
(Courtesy)

High school tennis is being played coed this season in the California Interscholastic Federation San Diego Section, and players at La Jolla schools are adapting to their new, rearranged teams.

At schools such as La Jolla Country Day and Bishop’s, the teams are smaller. Conversely, the team at La Jolla High School is much larger and athletes are getting used to not getting as much playing time.

But for players and coaches who were eagerly awaiting a return to competition following the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, any time on the court is welcome.

“It’s just good we’re back out to playing,” said La Jolla Country Day School coach Mike Reisinger. “If we can keep improving as the season goes, that would be great. I hope to finish in the top eight of the county, which is how we normally place. We would consider that a successful season. We want everyone to be healthy, injury-free and have fun.”

Matches include singles for boys and for girls, doubles for boys and for girls and mixed doubles.

For LJCDS players like Sydney Helfand, the opportunity to play new opponents is something she is not going to pass up.

“I like playing mixed doubles because we get to face different types of players we wouldn’t experience in a normal season,” said Helfand, 18. “Guys tend to have more topspin when they hit the ball, so they have a different style of hitting. Guys also tend to be a little bit taller, so I have had to change some strategies because some shots work better depending on the person’s height.”

LJCDS player Camden French, 17, agreed that “girls hit the ball flatter.”

This season his strategy is to “play into the weakness of an opponent,” because “that’s how you win.”

As one of the leaders of the team, he encourages other players to do their best during practices. “I know that sounds basic, but in tennis specifically, the way you practice is the way you play in tournaments,” he said. “So the more we do that, the more success we’ll have. We want to boost the team that way.”

La Jolla Country Day School tennis player Camden French
La Jolla Country Day School tennis player Camden French says his strategy is to “play into the weakness of an opponent.”
(Courtesy)

At The Bishop’s School, the student captains have largely taken the lead this season, with coach Matt Copeland staying away from the athletes until he is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“They are resilient,” Copeland said. “They have all stepped up and the players that are there are excited to be.”

One of them, Tejas Gupta, 18, has been on the varsity team for four years and now is a captain for the first time. “I’ve been playing since I was born,” he said. “I took a few weeks off at the start of the pandemic — which is a lot for me — so it was a tough adjustment getting back into the game.” But the team adapted and the captains arranged the lineups to maximize strengths.

Co-captain Brooke Waite, who has been playing varsity tennis since her freshman year, helped arrange the matches early in the season.

For a season-opening mixed doubles match against the opponent’s No. 1 pair, “we didn’t want to throw our best players into a match they couldn’t win,” she said. So stronger Bishop’s teams instead played against less-strong opponents.

“We were able to win the game by pairing stronger players in the middle,” she said.

Waite said players of both genders are “willing to do what is best for the team.”

At La Jolla High, coach Darice Carnaje said her team sees the return to the court as a two-sided coin.

“We’re glad that we are getting a chance to play, but each player isn’t getting to play as much because they only play one set in the mixed-doubles format,” she said.

In a same-sex doubles match, players would participate in three sets. But with 34 athletes on the team, ensuring every player gets a turn means less time for everyone.

“But the kids were just glad to be doing sports and see their friends,” Carnaje said. “A parent told me it was great for their mental health. They are still at home for school, and this way they get to socialize. I think they really enjoy it.” ◆